Monday, December 31, 2007
[Editor’s Note: Herein lies the last of our three-part “Wrapping Up 2007” series, which, to review, was one-third top-albums, one-third top songs, and one-third this. Happy New Year to all, and might the Almighty bless us in 2008 with mirth, sustenance, and the new Postal Service album.]
According to Chuck Klosterman, being post-modern means having an awareness that art is art, and engaging art in evaluation of two distinct qualities: goodness and importance. For instance, Klosterman talks about the difference between the Northeastern and Southern American demographics vis-à-vis the Allman Brothers Band. Citizens of the former, he writes, are more apt to call the Allman Brothers “important,” even if they don’t particularly care for the band’s music. The latter population, though, proffers a patently one-dimensional take on the Allmans. To paraphrase a quote from “Killing Yourself to Live,” the Southerner would probably say, “Well, I don’t know if the Allman Brothers are important, but I sure know they’re good.” The Southerner does not bifurcate his/her music into the significant and the sonorous, the objective and the subjective—music has no defining objective qualities, but merely serves to either delight or disappoint the individual listener. While the Allman Brothers might be significant insofar as one may dearly love “Midnight Rider,” the Southerner would never remove himself from his immediate experience and reflect on how universally—almost abstractly—important that song is.
Far be it from me to confirm or deny Klosterman’s rather pejorative take on Southern intellectualism. All that aside, I can verify that he is correct about the northeast. New York City is the detached music lovers’ capital, where you can practically spy concert-goers making mental notes to Wikipedia song lyrics when they get home. In the Big Apple we’re overly post-modern: we’d rather talk about why Billy Joel matters than clap and sing along at one of his concerts. If you’d break down a typical NYC audience into a pizza pie chart, seven of eight slices would be pretentious thinkers trying to out-articulate the pretentious thinker next to them; the last slice would be people who…um…came to enjoy the concert.
Rarely do these two populations intersect—but, in a liberating end to a somewhat difficult, oft-frustrating year, the seemingly impossible happened on the last Saturday night of 2007. Inside a packed Irving Plaza, The New York Dolls, 1970’s punk heroes and forebears of the CBGB’s counter-counterculture—a lineage that includes Dolls disciples the Ramones, Blondie, and the Talking Heads—continued their reunion tour in front a demonstratively nostalgic audience. The crowd was mostly middle-aged, sufferers of nearly three decades without the Dolls, with a sprinkling of younger baskers seeking an aural history lesson. There was much rock and spectacle, but there was also cognizance, a profound awareness of not just what this music sounded like, but what it was, and where it was. For the Dolls to return to New York with so much vitality was paramount to the return of an erstwhile superstar to his sports franchise.
A faction of cowboy-hatted couples venerated the Dolls from the corner, at once crying and crooning, appreciating that the Dolls were important important and good. Each person had his or her own order—for me, importance came before goodness, since I had compiled a story about the Dolls just days earlier and was taken by their place in rock ‘n roll history. For the spurred-boot-sporting, ripped-jean-wearing couples in the corner, goodness seemed to save them from thinking about importance; it was as though they had grown so weary of recounting the Dolls’ significance that this rock-your-face performance was both a reprieve from, and justification for, all that talk. Most of all, it was a revelation to finally hear music that mattered to people. In a most un-New York fashion, a crowd moved beyond thought and speech and into enjoyment. For them-for us-seeing the New York Dolls wasn’t a fashion statement, nor an opportunity to wax unmoved at yet another performance—it was the integration of quality and quantity, of subjective love and objective value.
I don't know whether this experience instantiates the whole of 2007. On the one hand, it informs our understanding of perseverance, and what it means to literally get it right at the last minute. But who knows if it’s an apt analogy for the year that's past? 2007 was trying, and I’m not sure that, as a global society, we ever got it together like we should have. Yet, I’m also not sure if we erred so badly in the first place. After all, if there’s still a place for exuberance at a New York Dolls concert—lo, for the New York Dolls themselves-then we couldn't have missed by much. What ensues in 2008 is yet untold, but on a dreary Saturday night in December, 2007 was a worthy predecessor.
Stay Safe, New York
Saturday, December 29, 2007
[Editor’s Note: This is part 2 of our “Wrapping Up 2007” series, which also serves as the continued evisceration of SPIN’s pandering, nauseating year-in-review issue. As predicted, I wasted ample time watching the “Classic Albums” series, but also had a salient epiphany while thinking about Christmas: if you count December 25 as the first day of Jesus’ life, then isn’t January 1 (New Year’s Day) the eighth? Or, in other words, the day of his circumcision and naming? Sure enough, I was just too cocooned in my own theological world to have not known this earlier, as it seems that the New Year’s circumcision is a pretty well-known fact. According to simpletoremember.com, January 1 has since carried a virulently anti-Semitic banner. “Throughout the medieval and post-medieval periods,” the site says, “January 1 - supposedly the day on which Jesus' circumcision initiated the reign of Christianity and the death of Judaism - was reserved for anti-Jewish activities: synagogue and book burnings, public tortures, and simple murder.” Not only that, but, “Caesar celebrated the first January 1 New Year by ordering the violent routing of revolutionary Jewish forces in the Galilee. Eyewitnesses say blood flowed in the streets.” Cheery.]
The year in music was a year in trends: digital downloading continued to unseat and undermine the corporate record companies (yay!) and impoverish musicians (nay!). Meanwhile, independent/non-major-label releases by Radiohead, Madonna, and Nine Inch Nails typified the growing sense of autonomy amongst prominent groups, a sentiment previously reserved for Pearl Jam and the Genre formerly known as Punk Rock. Team-ups were all the rage in hip-hop, with Timbaland cutting beats for everyone but his dog, but including all his dawgs—and dawgettes—on his own album, “Shock Value,” which yielded the collabotastic “The Way I Are.” Lastly, music writers begged off any and all controversial assignments, opting instead to laud, redundantly, a few marketable faces.
Yes, the trend was the trend. Just like the Sex Pistols before them and the fads who will surely follow, musicians today work extremely hard to locate, create, and exploit patterns in consumerism. Hence, 2007 was not just the Year of the Trend, but also the Year of the Single. Hoping to catch on with satellite radio, clubs, and magazine covers, artists unleashed a barrage of three-and-a-half-minute clips. Some succeeded, others failed. However, commercial success or failure is utterly immaterial when the issue is quality. Or, more aptly, when the issue is how loud you crank the radio when the song comes on.
Unfortunately, there weren’t many great songs this year. Typing this while listening to Soundgarden’s “Burden In My Hand” is the musical equivalent of looking at a picture of a hot ex while copulating with a barnyard animal: the two don’t even compare, and you’re dreaming of what used to be. Nonetheless, we were graced with a few solid tunes, and—not coincidentally—a number of my “Eardrums be damned, I’m turning this up” selections are included on my favorite albums (scroll down to the previous blog for those). After all, you can’t have great albums without great songs.
So, without further adieu, here are the Top 10 most crankable songs of 2007.
10 Radiohead: 15 Step
While I generally abhor “In Rainbows” (you can check out my review here), "15 Step" is an ode to the Ghost of Radiohead Past. With its haunting, odd-meter polyrhythm and vintage Thom Yorke excruciation, the album’s first track is a refulgent masterpiece set against its dim-lighted peers. However, if it weren’t for the comparatively weak year in music, "15 Step" would be about 15 spots lower on this list.
9 Amy Winehouse: Rehab
Am I tired of it? Probably. But when I first heard this devil-may-care addicts' anthem, replete with blaring horns and multiple hooks, I was carried to a better place; namely, 1960’s Motown, where the coke was cheap and rehab was a non-consideration anyhow. Winehouse’s subsequent demise has been spectacular and saddening, but this song came first. And it will be remembered.
8 Prince: Guitar
Speaking of things formerly known as other things, let us not overlook the Prince of Pop. His suddenly-decades-old tenure begs a promotion to Pop Viceroy, which would allow him and King Michael Jackson to prepare the regal echelons for Prince Timberlake’s eventual ascension to the throne. “Guitar” calls to mind The Viceroy's largely overlooked six-string iconicity—he might not be the best guitarist of all-time, but if I could wail like anybody, I’d wanna wail like Prince.
7 Blake Lewis: Break Anotha
This year’s American Idol runner-up unleashes the musical and vocal attack that vaulted him (almost) to the top of America’s most competitive sham of a show. Nobody—not me, not any magazine, and certainly not Simon Cowell—said Blake was a great singer, but his ear, flair, and beatbox are consistently outstanding. “Break Anotha” is a pretty traditional pop-hip-hop track, but includes all the elements that made Blake such a bugaboo for his American Idol opponents. Wacky instrumentation, a hall-of-fame bridge (“Playin’ a role, he don’t care what he’s told”), and a Jay-Z-esque guitar track lead comfortably into rolling breakbeats and some vintage Blake Lewis noodling. A score for American Idol lovers and haters alike.
6 Marcus Miller: Higher Ground
Let me be clear: this would be number one by a lot (A LOT) if it weren’t a cover. Miller has always taken a backseat to bass greats like Victor Wooten and Jaco Pastorious, and for good reason—he has far less technical ability, he’s not an innovator, and he kinda sorta writes the same “funk in your face” riff over and over again. However, what’s endeared him to me (and scored him some Grammys) is his soul. He’s the funkiest of brothas, and the grooviest bassist on the planet. His rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” might well be the definitive version of the song, as it out-funks the Chili Peppers’ effort and charges harder than Mr. Wonder’s. Forgive me, Stevie.
(For another of Miller’s Wonder-ful covers, “Boogie on Reggae Woman,” click here.)
5 Rihanna: Umbrella
There is a single compelling reason for putting this song on the list: I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to like it, I didn’t want to secretly hope for it to come on the radio, and I didn’t want to ashamedly stream the video after my roommates went to sleep. I didn’t want to know the chorus by heart, I didn’t want to sing it to myself for days at a time, and I didn’t want to find myself drunkenly arguing its merits at a bar last week. But all those things happened. Plus, a little Jay-Z never hurt anybody.
4 Justice: Let There Be Light
Am I the only one who wants to swing an ice-pick through my face whenever I hear “D.A.N.C.E.,” Justice’s off-key, obnoxious, child-driven hit? The way I feel about “Let There Be Light,” which hardly made a commercial splash, is quite the opposite. This trigger-happy dance bona-fide is what we downloaded the album to hear: big drums, swirling synths, and a deadly build-up and crescendo. Everybody D.A.N.C.E.!
3 The White Stripes: Icky Thump
Jack and Meg White have a knack for rescuing themselves with humongous singles, and “Icky Thump” is their best yet. “Fell in Love With a Girl” was passable, “Seven Nation Army” was progress, but “Icky Thump” is the capstone low-fi blockbuster that puts the lid on 10 years (what?) of the White Stripes. I’m still not convinced that they’re decent—nor that Jack and Meg are married—but “Icky Thump” is an unequivocal turn-it-up-and-shut-up lifer.
2 The National: Fake Empire
Not the best song of the year, but certainly my favorite. My routine for writing up a band includes an abbreviated trip to its MySpace page for a 30-second primer on its tunes and the size of its cyber-fanbase. Rarely do I dally for more than a minute, much less listen to an entire song—I prefer listening by CD. However, when I was researching The National, something very unusual happened: I heard Matt Berninger’s ominous baritone careen over a flood of wavy piano and criss-crossing horns, and I listened to the whole song. So I played it again. And again. And again. Before long, I made a habit of loading The National’s MySpace page before I went to bed so that I could listen to “Fake Empire” immediately after I awoke. I blasted it when I was in the bathroom, looped it while I was studying, and recommended it to all my friends. And yes: it is as good live as it is on the record.
1 LCD Soundsystem: Get Innocuous!
Bucka-bucka-bucka-bucka-bucka-bu-CKA. Bucka-bucka-bucka-bucka-bucka-bu-CKA. My friends, welcome to the best bass line of 2007, the anchor for the year’s matchless musical landmark. I said it in the last blog, and I’ll say it again: you will not find a more honest, adrenalized, or memorable artist than James Murphy, and “Get Innocuous!” is his grand tour de force. Jonathan Ringen of Rolling Stone calls it a “massive, clattering dance-floor killer” with an “awesomely pathetic title.” I call it Bucka-bucka-bucka-bucka-bucka-bu-CKA.
Stay Shoddy, 2007’s Musical Output
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
[Editor's Note: I intend for this to be the first in a series of "Wrapping Up 2007" columns. Whether I get around to more of these or get sidetracked by "Classic Albums" on VH1 Classic is completely up to the gods, and I accept no culpability in the matter.]
[Editor's Note 2: Was the title of this column a gratuitous ploy to include a picture of Justin Timberlake, whose album, unfortunately, came out last year? Yes.]
With a repulsive deluge of “year-in-review” columns pouring through my mail slot (not a metaphor), I have but two options: acquiesce or differ. Notably, SPIN magazine named Kanye West’s “Stronger” collaboration with French electro-heroes Daft Punk 2007’s best song, and named West and Daft Punkers Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo the top performers of these almost-bygone 365 days. The myriad difficulties with these exaltations are somewhat elusive, inasmuch as Kanye and Daft Punk are adept producers and songsmiths, and there is nothing ostensibly violative about either the original “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” or Kanye’s hook-heavy seasoning. Beneath the still waters, however, are issues with the track (the beats are light, there is no climax, it’s perplexingly repetitive), and, moreover, with SPIN aggrandizing it above every other 2007 offering.
Since this is merely a bitter prelude to my own top-10 posturing, and not an exposition on nefarious pop journalism, I will name but two of my issues with SPIN’s “Stronger” celebration (the rest will be available henceforth by conversation only): first, it’s not the best song on Kanye’s “Graduation.” In fact, it straggles miles behind “Good Life” and some of Kanye’s more vintage hip-hop cuts. Second, it’s not the best song of the year. The National’s “Fake Empire,” SPIN’s fifth-best number, outclasses “Stronger” in virtually every melodic and rhythmic capacity (if you haven’t heard it, and you’re equipped to donate two hours to cycling “Fake Empire” in a fit of autoerotic revelry, alight on myspace.com/thenational.) Even Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” ranked nineteenth, is more significant, and will be remembered 10 years hence. “Stronger” will not—it’s too forgettable and ephemeral to be the best song of the year.
For my own sanity—and for the sake of some deserving metaphysical cause—here are my top 10 albums of the year.
10 Amy Winehouse: Back to Black
Of all the multifarious good fortune I’ve been lucky enough to channel this year, perhaps the most fortuitous piece was discovering this album just before the rest of the world heard “Rehab,” cemented Winehouse’s beehive hairdo on every magazine cover, and followed her drug addiction in so obsessive a manner as to make Lindsay Lohan look downright anonymous. I listened with no premonition of her forthcoming celebrity or the blotto fascination that derailed her career immediately afterwards. What I found were a bunch of gems; “Rehab,” obviously, but also the regal R&B of “He Can Only Hold Her” and “Some Unholy War,” a cross-pollination of a Biggie Smalls gansta backdrop and a Bob Marley lament.
9 Infected Mushroom: Vicious Delicious
By far (and as can be expected from these Israeli stalwarts), the year’s best trance album. The explosive build and final two minutes of “Eat it Raw” is perfectly percussive and delightfully violent, and the unwelcome lyrics on some songs are outweighed by the visceral, straight-ahead techno that Infected has helped establish as the defining element of Goa Trance. With Jaffa Oranges and ecstasy, Israel’s finest exports.
8 Of Montreal: Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
With all due respect to the work’s titular question, this album—or anything associated with it—is far from the destroyer. In fact, Of Montreal prove once again to be indie music’s most un-indie band, with genuinely layered and nuanced tracks that put to shame the inchoate mess that is most of its competition. “Hissing Fauna” scores the mystification quad-fecta, with the year’s most mystifying album title (which fauna are we talking about, and why is it hissing? Does fauna hiss?), most mystifying band name (they’re from Athens, Georgia), most mystifying song name (“Sink the Seine”…um, isn’t it already a river?), and most mystifying existential statement housed within a track title (“The Past is a Grotesque Animal”). Confusing and comforting all at the same time, “Hissing Fauna” marries Williamsburg panache to Staten Island rent prices.
7 Chrisette Michele: I Am
Okay, so I’m biased. I interviewed Michele in June, just before her album came out, and I was taken by her voice, do-gooder ethos, and psychic propensity for channeling Billie Holiday. I was put off by her abstinence, temperance, and un-potty mouth, but she made me emote in three ways that I never have during an interview:
A) About halfway through our sit-down, I said, “Goddamn it, I love my mom!”
B) Two minutes later, I observed, “Well, I guess I’m going to kill myself.”
C) With my last question, I looked her dead in the eyes and asked, “Would you say that your macaroni and cheese analogy extends to other areas of your life?”
(You can click here to check out my story for the now-defunct Inside Connection magazine.)
6 The Bad Plus: PROG
It may strike you as ironic, considering their name, but the Bad Plus has achieved a veritable collective of “bests”—best jazz/rock piano trio, best post-Nirvana version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and best example of an aggressive, stylistically ambiguous, between-genres band done good on a mainstream-sounding project. “PROG,” as the name implies, is a progressive romp through a grab bag of covers and originals. It leads off with an inspired iteration of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” and then mimics Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” and David Bowie’s cult classic, “Life on Mars” (unlike Bowie, the Bad Plus don't phrase "Life on Mars?" in the form of a question). “PROG” is not the group’s best effort—that honor is reserved for “Give”—but hey, it’s better than Kanye West and Daft Punk.
5 Dr. Dog: We All Belong
Dr. Dog wins the award for “Most under-the-radar Beach Boys and Beatles sound-alike from Philadelphia with soothing, pithy songs and engaging album artwork.” Their latest studio effort clocks in at a compact 38 minutes, with jaunty head-boppers like “The Girl” that evoke a base, juvenile glee. What’s more, lead singer Scott McMicken is exceedingly polite, and really gave it to the man by holding out on an iPod until he got one for free after playing a show at the Apple Store in Chicago. ¡Viva La Revolucion!
4 Arcade Fire: Neon Bible
They’re loud, they’re over-the-top, they’re melodramatic, but they’re also touching, wrenching, and uber-talented multi-instrumentalists. Canada’s Favorite Sons follow up “Funeral,” their roaring debut, with an equally tonal and maudlin haranguing of suburan ennui and parental oppression. “Neon Bible” would have ranked higher if the Arcade Fire didn’t prove such willing darlings of the SPIN and Blender media machine, but would have ranked lower if that sharing-the-self attitude didn’t also manifest in their riveting, balls-out live performances. So I guess they’re right where they should be. Now, if we could only do something about Win Butler's hair.
3 Sigur Ros: Hvarf-Heim
Never mind that the album name evokes a Nazi bark, nor that its translation (Haven-Home) is uncharacteristically innocuous and sterile for these ethereal Nordic shoegazers. Just know two things: Sigur Ros is now classified as “Post-Rock,” which is way badass, and they sing in “Hopelandic,” a fake take-off of Icelandic whose words mean nothing. As if all that rhetorical rebellion weren’t enough, Sigur Ros inhabits the rarified sonic territory of Radiohead and Pink Floyd—eastern hemisphere titans who deliver the airy, psychedelic goods.
2 Robert Plant and Alison Krauss: Raising Sand
In 2007’s most fruitful and intriguing collaboration (hear that, Kanye and Modest Mouse?), country belle Krauss and Led Zeppelin frontman Plant deliver a tasteful alt-country masterpiece that proves that, a) hot chicks always do it better, and b) Plant is the most versatile singer in the history of hard rock. Although the two trade lead vocal duties throughout, their 13 utterly transporting selections shine brightest with Krauss at the fore, whining and pining like a homesick goddess while Plant forsakes his trademarked Zeppelin squeal for raspy, understated harmonies. "Through the Morning, Through the Night" finds Krauss in a bed of would-be Grateful Dead harmonies; think of her singing the choruses on "Brokedown Palace." The lonesome “Please Read the Letter” is cutting and melodious, slowing, for a bit, snail mail’s rapid demise.
1 LCD Soundsystem: Sound of Silver
The One. Not just number one, but the transcendent recording that changes how you think about music, impacts your iTunes (or illegal European downloading site) purchasing habits, and vindicates an otherwise mediocre lap around the calendar. 2007’s “Futuresex/Lovesounds,” James Murphy’s second release as LCD Soundsystem is a catchy mash-up of disco spew and faux-adolescent angst, the brilliant convergence of tunefulness, technology, and social commentary. Not only is “Get Innocuous!” the year’s best song, but “North American Scum” and “Someone Great” prove worthy competition for the crown.
In an altogether dishonest era—both musically and otherwise—Murphy waxes axiomatic with Mick Jagger-like realism, reminding us that we don't always want what we want. “Sound of silver,” he drones in the title track, “makes you want to feel like a teenager. Until you remember the feelings of a real life emotion of teenager. Then you think again.”
James Murphy makes me stronger.
Stay Seminal, Sound of Silver
MC Music in Review
Monday, December 17, 2007
God either exists or doesn’t exist. There is no median possibility. God, however one might conceptualize such an entity, is either truth or fiction. Conviction in either direction is some combination of faith, conjecture, logic, socialization—and ultimately free will—but there are only two directions to go: yay or nay. That’s why the God issue is so simple, and why long, agonizing theological conversations completely escape me: there are but two possible realities, and neither can be proved. Arguing about whether or not God exists is like a 35-year-old arguing over whether he’ll live to see 90. There are only two possible outcomes, and both are speculative. It’s a profoundly idiotic thing to argue about, and I wish people would stop doing it.
I have no problem with theological discourse. I have no problem with abstract posturing. I have no problem with wanting to pursue universal and cosmic truths. But I have a problem with people who impose their God know-it-allness on others, who masquerade their spiritual guesswork as inarguable fact.
I met one such girl at a group dinner at my college. A bunch of us spilled outside after the meal, only to be met by the girl (whose name I forget, and most probably never knew) who was all-too-eager to tell us the deal. God exists, she said. She knows He does. He DOES. No, she can’t prove it, and, moreover, she only came to that conclusion after deciding, a few weeks earlier, to start Believing. It was beyond her to realize that you can’t decide on objective reality; in essence, the very idea of her trying to convince us of her truth is proof enough that her efforts were futile from the outset. If something is obviously true—say, that the sun rises every morning—you don’t have to accost people in the street to convince them. They just know. If something is not true—say, that the sun exploded 1,000 years ago and hasn’t existed since—people will simply know you’re wrong. In both cases, people don’t need to be told in order to know.
Anything else, then, exists in ambiguity. So, the second one finds oneself arguing for the obviousness of something, it’s clear that the thing in question isn’t so obvious. It’s also clear, then, that people can’t simply be convinced. People need charming, charismatic idea salesmen in order to buy into sub-obvious concepts. Eons of credulity have been assigned prophets—purportedly real and fake—because there was a particularly beckoning flair to their soapbox. They didn’t yell so much as they coaxed, and their coaxing always led the audience up to the precipice of the incredible, and then offered an ultimatum in the form of an option: benefit or suffer. Of course, the subtext was “be saved/repent or die,” and that’s exactly the point—if cloaked in attractive semantics, the most unbelievable, threatening, and too-large-to-fathom ideas become embraceable.
To be embraceable, and to be embraced; to have our ideas accepted as facts, to be revered as purveyors of wisdom. That's what we all want, and the girl outside the cafeteria wanted it bad. She could have had it if she'd have curbed the close-talking theological aggression and offered a rhetoric more cozy, lazy, and yielding. Something like, “God loves you, just do what you can to reciprocate, but anything is fine,” and I would have told her how right she was, that I wished more people would get hip to the enlightenment.
As it is, with that statement wrapped back up in the ether of my wishes, I will continue to suffer the philosophy bullies. Maybe they go away after college.
Stay Self-Satisfied, After-Dinner Theology Girl
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Authoritarian rulers have large appetites: for power, for prestige, for influence, and for Raisin Bran Crunch. His “Butcher of Baghdad” moniker notwithstanding, Saddam Hussein’s were decidedly dairy druthers: cereal with milk, eggs, and French toast. No pork (he was Muslim), no Fruit Loops (he couldn’t stand them), and Cheetos were OK, but not quite Doritos. While awaiting his fate inside a US-controlled penitentiary, Hussein personalized more than his commissarial intake; according to a cnn.com report from June 2005, he also gave his overseers advice on women, American intelligence, and how the Allied Forces might have better decimated the Iraqi capital.
“Find a woman not too smart, not too dumb, not too old, not too young,” Hussein reportedly instructed Spc. Sean O'Shea. Peculiarly caring advice, considering its barbarous provider, but, as far as all sources are concerned, he conveyed this directive of his own free will, with no corporeal coercion. As for President Bush’s unyielding insistence that this Doritos-laden dictator harbored weapons of mass destruction, Saddam was slightly less understanding.
“"He knows I have nothing, no mass weapons,” he told his guards, all of whom were just a fraction of Hussein’s age. “He knows he'll never find them."
Bush, however, did not just err in military premise, but also in logistics. For on the fateful night in 2003 when the President initiated the “shock and awe” sequence in Baghdad, Hussein was hailing a cab outside of his palace—the one in which he was actually situated, and not the one Bush mistakenly bombed.
“America, they dumb. They bomb wrong palace."
America, we dumb. We bomb the wrong palace, we upholster a mass murderer with Kellogg’s, and our cardinal news-reporting agency humanizes the principle target of a four-years-and-counting military campaign. These subtle immolations of our foreign policy are novel efforts, phenomena unconscionable and unpardonable under Roosevelt and Truman. Those Commanders-in-Chief of yore would have negotiated a compromise between freedom of the press and wartime sensibilities, and would have kept a similar story about Hitler or Stalin from casual dissemination. They didn’t have to contend with the internet or Wolf Blitzer, but they also wouldn’t have bombed the wrong presidential residence had they access to those advances.
Even Hussein comprehended the competence hierarchy evident in American socio-pop culture.
“The guards said Saddam showed an affinity for Ronald Reagan and Dan Rather, but is not too keen on the Bush family,” Brian Todd related in the same cnn.com article.
With that particular personnel ranking, and his affinity for American breakfast—and preference for manageable women—the animal takes on a human hue. Butcher becomes benign.
Maybe Saddam wasn’t so than us different after all.
Stay Sated, Saddam
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Religious traditions are rarely intelligible. Trying to interpret a manger, a tree, and an overpriced sweater from The Gap is just as difficult as deciphering a spinning top, an eight-armed lamp, potato pancakes, jelly doughnuts, and an overpriced sweater from Old Navy. When I was growing up, though, my parents synthesized all of Hanukkah's symbols and rituals into a rational whole.
They explained that we give gifts in order to show that it’s best to be generous with money; we light the menorah because the miracle in the Temple involved the High Priest doing the same; we eat potato pancakes because they’re fried in oil, oil being the operative agent in allowing the High Priest to light the lamp; we eat jelly doughnuts because they’re fucking awesome.
I understood Hanukkah when I was seven (at that age, Hanukkah and Reebok Pumps were the only things I accepted without protest), one of the major reasons I still appreciate it now. The other reason is that, like Christmas, Hanukkah is a pleasantly casual holiday, light on responsibility and heavy on good cheer. There are no Sabbath-like restrictions. All you have to do is exchange gifts (nice), eat unhealthy food (nice), and light fires while you’re singing songs (very nice). It’s uncomplicated and juvenile, with very little time commitment. And, because the holiday is diffused over eight days, even the most over-bearing family won't make you come home for the whole thing. The folks only demand a night or two, and you walk away a few presents richer.
What’s not to love?
Hanukkah also shields us Jews from Christmas jealousy. Judaism has fast days and days of mourning, and has a total of eight weeks during the year wherein you aren’t supposed to listen to music or see movies. Included in those eight weeks are nine days (called "The Nine Days") that prohibit the following: music, movies, alcohol, meat, swimming, parties, sporting events, and doing laundry. But it’s not just Judaism—all types of monotheism can be a drag. Muslims don’t eat for a month; Christians have to put ash on their foreheads and tell some guy sitting in a latticed booth how much they masturbate. Although I always thought of myself as an “oppressed Jew,” I wasn’t jealous of the non-Jews; in some ways, their plight seemed more abject than mine.
But Christmas is enviable. A tree, some presents, multiple nights, caroling, a nice dinner, “Home Alone”—I could get into all that. The one time that a rival religion might woo me for a few days, however, coincides with Hanukkah, of equal (or more) grandeur. It's also got the presents, the multiple nights, the singing, dinners, and family time. And while we might not have an answer for “Home Alone,” history has made it clear that Macaulay Culkin is not worth pining over.
Silent Night or The Hanukkah Song? The choice is clear.
Stay Soggy, Sufganiyot