Sunday, March 30, 2008
Why did the chicken cross the road?
Turns out the answer is age-dependent: if you’re older than 14, the typical response is either “to get to the other side” or “because it was stapled to the car.” However, my seven-year-old cousin recently provided two new reasons. First, he said, “To get to the alien headquarters database.”
Then, not convinced that extraterrestrial HQ would warrant a jaunt across the street, he said, “Because [unintelligible Pokemon person] needed to go to [unintelligible Pokemon place] to [unintelligible Pokemon action].” Startled that the joke had changed so much since I was a kid, I asked him where he’d heard all that.
“At school,” he said, organizing his Pokemon cards in a binder.
“Who told you the joke?”
“All my friends tell the same joke. Everybody knows it,” he said, annoyed.
The pedestrian chicken's evolution has been swift. The factors that compelled it to cross the road 15 years ago are no longer relevant, replaced by ultra-sci-fi and cartoons. My generation grew up with the Power Rangers and Sonic the Hedgehog, but we segregated our humor and entertainment. Even the fortunate few who had Duck Hunt guns in first grade never cross-pollinated their joke repertoire and their living room amusement. Yet my cousin—and his friends, apparently—are bringing life experience into their jokes, incorporating stumpy little Pokefreaks into chickens who cross roads.
Sorry to say, but a chicken crossing the road lacks the cognitive power to discern a special purpose in its sojourn—an ambulatory chicken is probably thinking about nothing at all, and, at best, is thinking something like, “Cross. Now. Poop.” That otherwise intelligent kids could suggest that a chicken would go to an alien headquarters is indicative of the chief difference between kids today and kids yesterday—kids today believe the video game universe is real. At heart, my generation knew that Sonic was a fantastical creature, and though he amused us, he remained illusory, a figment of Sega’s imagination.
Kids today, however, are born into a technological landscape so interactive that differentiating between real and delusional is very difficult. Imagine being four years old and being able to instruct your TV what to show you, seeing your parents conduct most of their lives through a computer, and listening to music through a wafer-shaped doohickey with a track wheel. Most people’s online friends outnumber their real ones by a 10:1 margin, and social lives are organized on the Internet. Breaking up on Facebook is as ritualized as actually breaking up, and having MySpace fans is as vital to a band as having fans at a show.
So is it really such a stretch for a four year-old, seven year-old, or even eleven year-old to assume that Pokemon characters are really their friends? Or that chickens coexist with aliens? No wonder their humor reveals a certain belief in the non-real; indeed, their lives are orchestrated in the gloaming between actual, corporeal reality and virtual reality. Is Pikachu any less real than a Facebook friendship? Or, put more pointedly, is a TV that does your bidding any less real than the person next to you in class?
What’s so wrong with supposing that a chicken and an alien and a Pokemon all exist? In this new child’s world, where television and computers dictate reality as much as reality dictates reality, jokes must reflect the ever-broadening definition of what could possibly be.
So, why did the chicken cross the road? I don’t know. I’m too old.
Stay Seven, Kids
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Quick: what are Mariah Carey’s greatest assets? If you said anything other than humor and wit, you’d be wrong. Well…debatably wrong. But wrong nonetheless.
With the release of her video for “Touch My Body,” Carey artfully wedges into the Superbad/Napolean Dynamite geitzeist, trading love strokes with “CompuNerd” Jack McBrayer (of 30 Rock fame). While Mariah performs the requisite video seduction—lolling in lingerie, showing a zip-code’s worth of cleavage, etc—she and a smitten McBrayer battle in Guitar Hero, play laser tag, and jump on the bed while McBrayer sports a bow tie and red “love rocks” wife beater.
Carey sells the role entirely, never breaking the steamy motif. McBrayer, meanwhile, is all geek. In other words, replacing Carey with Will Ferrell would yield a comedy smash, while keeping Carey and replacing McBrayer with a male model would result in a fetus.
With the public sure to be split between two defensible reactions—“What?” and “That’s funny”—let this entry cast a ballot for the latter. With Carey inexplicably reclaiming the diva mantle (if not the vocal throne) and McBrayer remaining calm enough to act while mere inches from Carey’s Special Places, the success of “Touch My Body” is undebatable. Well…debatably undebatable. But undebatable nonetheless.
Stay Technosavvy, Mariah
Friday, March 21, 2008
My name is Hov', H to the O.V.
I used to move snowflakes by the O.Z.
-Public Service Announcement (Interlude)
VH1 Classic ran a Jay-Z special a few months ago, around the time I silently committed to sacrificing my first-born son to the self-proclaimed “best rapper alive.” Predictable and obsequious, the documentary chronicled Jay-Z as cool (rapper, driver of cars, dater of women) and commendable (rags-to-riches, brilliant, enterprising). The show was a 60-minute failure, in that it omitted the salient characteristic that elevates the New Jersey Nets part-owner above all others: he is honest.
While pedestrian rappers bluster about bullets and bitches, Jay-Z is a stripped-down newsman, the embodiment of a man, a microphone, and his turmoil. His concerts are stripped-down affairs, with the audience charged to cling to every couplet. Jay-Z is rap’s most austere artist, an amalgam of truth and street.
The Black Album, his 2003 release, introduced the hit “99 Problems,” an overstated rap-rock mash-up that leaves more than a little to be desired. “99 Problems” is a good song, yet easily the album’s worst. It’s certainly the least honest, and it drips the faux machismo that Jay-Z typically forgoes.
“99 Problems” aside, The Black Album is a case study in badass. 14 tracks long, it says dozens of way cool things about growing up on the street, drug dealing, and—above all—hustling. Jay-Z may be honest, but he is hardly modest, and the man who corralled Beyonce nary misses a chance to toot his hustle horn.
From Bricks to Billboards, from grams to Grammys
The O's to opposite, Orphan Annie
-Dirt Off Your Shoulder
He doesn’t have Biggy’s flow, or Tupac’s fire, or even Eminem’s articulation (as Chuck Klosterman said, Eminem’s greatness lies in his ability to clearly enunciate his words), but Jay-Z has what none of them ever did: more than half a billion dollars.
And that can buy a lot of bling.
Stay Serviced, Public
DJ Dirtless Shoulder
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
I have a vague recollection of twisting into an unintelligible heap, fixing my posture just long enough to accuse G-D of ruining my pants, and passing into a troubled sleep, fully clothed and bandana-clad. As the most vivid of my three (or so) surviving memories from last Purim, this recollection is indicative of why organized religion still wears the pants around this psyche: sometimes the powers that be demand that we inebriate ourselves.
The next morning, the bandana had migrated to the coffee table, and I carefully dragged my dehydrated bones to the kitchen. With a veritable bounty at my disposal (granola bars, dry cereal, raw pasta, dubiously fresh milk and half a Coke), I opted for tap water. My pants were indeed torn, but G-D was less responsible than I thought—more probably, the holes were from making snow angels in the driveway. My shirt smelled like cat food, and the shoes I had on weren’t mine. There was writing on my arm: “To a very sexy boy xoxoxoxoxo.” No name.
Luckily, Purim wasn’t over yet, so I didn’t feel guilty about resembling a wheezing landfill. Purim begins again this Thursday, March 20, at sundown, and with the situation in the Middle East and global terrorism and America headed for a recession and the subprime mortgage crisis and Avian Flu and Ben Stiller movies and no Postal Service album in sight…well, it couldn’t get here soon enough.
Purim has four obligations:
1. To hear the reading of the Megilla, the Book of Esther, once at night and once in the morning.
2. To have a feast.
3. To send "mishloach manot" - two foods, to at least one friend.
4. To give charity to at least two poor people.
Number one is 40 minutes of love, deceit, conspiracy, wealth, revenge, and public executions. Number two is easy—eat food, get drunk, revel, hit on your friend’s 18-year-old cousin, etc.
For number three, “mishloach manot,” a can of beer and a Fruit Roll-Up suffice. Number four, meanwhile, is the cosmic reason why you don’t have to feel guilty for getting completely smashed and obnoxious. Alms absolve all. So, with costume drawn, alcohol purchased, and charity in hand, I am the picture of preparedness. When I swan dive onto the couch at some point Friday morning, I will be putrid, offensive, and despicable.
And G-D, Who taketh mercy on pants, will be happy.
Stay Supernal, Purim
Friday, March 14, 2008
[Editor’s note: I finally got around to giving this blog a proper URL and updated home page. Verbalcalorie.com is an idea I’ve been entertaining for a long time, and after working out a few glitches it seems to be up and running. The page loads well in Safari and Firefox, but looks like a pixelated schizoid in Internet Explorer—I’m building a Microsoft voodoo doll to deal with this. Please contact me with problems or suggestions.]
Now that he’s unemployed, what is Elliot Spitzer doing? The day after his resignation, Client 9 surely has few options. Now an ex-governor—and perhaps, soon to be an ex-husband and felon—Spitzer could be suicidal, or perhaps trying to reconcile with his family. He could be ringing up a hefty bill at the high-end whorehouse that started this ballyhoo. This is an anthropomorphic moment, when an object—Governor—mutates into a person—Elliot Spitzer, Disgraced Condom Spurner.
Spitzer’s is an unusually sanctimonious and pitiable case, since his was a public personality built on the moral hard line. As we’ve seen several times, however, even presumed saints reduce to flesh and bone. Stripped of so many identities—Governor, public servant, upstanding citizen, Conservative, law-abider, family man, model New Yorker—Spitzer has little left besides for philanderer.
Where does someone like that go?
My boss intuits suicide. “If I were him,” she says, feet up on the desk, “I’d be killing myself.” Or, “he’ll announce he has some other addiction that compels him to sleep with hookers, like alcoholism or painkillers, and he’ll disappear into rehab for three months.”
The decoy addiction could, indeed, prove useful. Blaming a stigmatized problem (in Spitzer’s case, pricey prostitutes) on something that garners public sympathy could partly salvage his reputation. Call it an evolved Twinkie Defense.
“Either way, he has to go underground for a few months,” she adds. “Maybe he should take that girl he was sleeping with for a long-term rental.”
The public outcry is bound to die out, since there is simply nothing more to write about. Spitzer will resurface in the tabloids if he gets indicted or divorced, but until then can rely on attrition and boredom to bail him out. Inevitably, words like “shock” and “disgust” will yield to generic alternatives like “unexpected” and “unfortunate.” Sex scandals and corruption are like bread—the older they get, the staler they become.
Stay Salacious, Spitzer
Monday, March 10, 2008
[Editor’s Note: The new Jack Johnson album, “Sleep Through the Static,” is so simple, beautiful, and pleasing that I wet myself.]
For whatever reason, the general consensus is that digital downloading is tearing apart the music industry. This is true, to a certain extent, and within certain arenas. Digital downloading hurts album sales, undermines the viability of the single, and somewhat detracts from the importance of radio play. If the criterion is access, then digital downloading has, indeed, rewritten the libretto for this corporate drama: being able to download songs means that we no longer have to spend money to access the music we want.
Still, what the “downloading is reshaping the industry” proponents don’t realize is that major labels actually control "the music we want.” Although every type of music is "out there," how does one know what to look for? Music consciousness, for 99% of people, comes from mass media—television, magazines, newspapers, billboards, radio, etc. Who gets radio play? Major music artists. Who gets the 1 spot on TRL? Not some unsigned psytrance DJ from Mumbai—hell, not even a minor label darling. It’s always a super-famous artist with a super-big record deal.
The “music we want” is just the music we’re fed, since what we want is inextricably limited to what we know. What we’re looking to download is usually the same thing that major labels want us listening to.
So, digital downloading can be looked at as the nefarious thorn in the industry's side, or merely as free advertising. Most downloading is not of the romanticized sort—it is not, in other words, hip people downloading hip music and thusly sticking it to The Un-Hip Man. For the most part, downloading consists in finding a KT Tunstall song on the cheap, or pirating an already-famous artist’s new album. More people than ever are in a position to own major label music, simply because it’s ubiquitously available—you can cull your favorite tunes in a bedroom, bathroom, or classroom. Digital downloading, in a sense, saves us a trip to the record store.
With its music so diffuse, record companies could, with just a little innovation, make a killing off of ticket and merchandise sales. Why not offer album downloads for free—or for pennies—from the label’s website? With so many millions of people hearing exactly what the record execs select, those same execs could track which locales download the most, and then plan huge concerts in those areas. Or, similarly, ship extra merchandise to malls in those counties. This could be the most effective method yet for manipulating the public wallet.
Everybody wins. The masses get free music, and, moreover, they gain unfettered access to trustworthy, high quality downloads. Also, if a particular artist proves popular in a certain region, that region gets the concerts and t-shirts it so desires. The poor record companies, for their part, can broadcast on an unprecedented scale. The resulting concert and merchandise windfalls would be so great that, if Reaganomics were still in effect, people like you and me might eventually afford grad school.
As convoluted as a marketing shift might be at first, Atlantic, Columbia, and Island Def Jam could continue to grow their global empire by giving fans free music. With prices that low, I'd gladly get ripped off for concert tickets later.
Stay Soothing, Sleep Through the Static
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Do you have suicidal or homicidal thoughts?
You must. We all do.
Every psychiatrist and psychologist poses this query about five minutes into your first session, and then purports to gauge your sanity by your response. I’ve always thought this a tragically unfair, overly broad question, especially since psychology demands nuance. My response has always been, “I want to kill myself when I can’t finish a crossword puzzle. I feel very homicidal when I watch televangelists. I want to kill Shaquille O’Neal.”
Surprise: I’m overmedicated.
If you’ve never wanted to kill anybody, you’re lying. Take it from Chris Rock, who famously announced, “If you haven’t contemplated murder, you haven’t been in love.” And you definitely haven’t toiled on a tech support call, careening through layers of misinformation in a doltish stratosphere, wondering, above all, what you’d do if you had a gun with one bullet: off yourself or the person making you feel like you're being circumcised again and again? With outsourcing on the rise—and, therefore, unintelligible instructions becoming standard—and patience on the wane, a mass murder must be just a “Hold, please” away.
Do I have suicidal or homicidal thoughts? Fuck yeah.
Yesterday, I encountered a cost-effective method for countering tech support tension: rock superstardom. After laboring through the incomprehensible penumbra that surrounds domain hosting, the woman on the line told me to hold. While I loaded a shotgun, Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” played in my ear, and I was soothed. “Tonight, Tonight” by the Smashing Pumpkins followed, as did The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony.” When the operator apologized for making me hold, I told her the waiting music rocked.
“Yes, sir, I know you’re having problems with the server.”
“Um…no…I mean…the music rocked. You guys played Zeppelin.”
“Sir, should I transfer you?”
More waiting music or more of her?
“Sure, transfer me.”
James Taylor started singing “Fire and Rain,” and the next operator interrupted the second chorus. “Piece of shit,” I said, right into the receiver.
“Excuse me, sir?”
“Nothing. Are you a James Taylor fan?”
The heavily-accented man, not wanting to insult my sensibilities—and presumably not a James Taylor fan—gave the only answer he could.
“Sir, could I have your customer ID?”
“Sure.” I gave it to him. “I just wanted to say that your waiting music is really good. Do you know anything about that?”
Three seconds of silence, then a deep breath.
“Sir, I’m not sure I understand your problem. You want to transfer your domain name?”
“Yes, but I’m just saying that the music you play over the phone is better than what other people play.” I was enunciating like a patronizing asshole, hoping to transfuse some modicum of humanity into this purgatory.
“I’m sorry sir, but you’d have to speak to my supervisor about matters like that,” he answered, in what must be construed as either a total misinterpretation of what I said or a gross dislike for singer-songwriters.
He waited for a response that never came. “Sir, I’ll help you with that domain transfer as soon as you give me your twelve-digit customer code.”
I hung up mid-call, rage coursing hot like a bruising desert sky, reduced to a misanthrope with a domain name problem. The next therapist who wants to know if I'm a potential threat to myself or others will hear about James Taylor, and they'll surely leave me plenty of psychotropics—with whose help I might wonder whether or not I'm crazy.
Stay Sonorous, Smashing Pumpkins
Monday, March 3, 2008
Tim Reynolds spent the last eight years traveling the country by himself, acoustic guitar and effects pedals in tow, with only his thoughts for company. A guitar maestro best known for his work with Dave Matthews, Reynolds is now leading his own band, TR3, on a national tour.
Still, eight years is a long time to go solo, and all that solitude eroded his social barriers to the point of comfort, clarity, and cum.
“In the 80s I had a job where I was putting up shelves, and I made a band called the Loud Cum Band,” Reynolds says, speaking to me from the TR3 tour bus in Cleveland in late February. He starts gagging on his laughter, his TR3 bandmates—bassist Mick Vaughn and drummer Dan Martier—doing the same in the background.
“We had one song called ‘I am cum,’ one called ‘I eat cum’…this is a young man working at KMart being a little frustrated. The whole sound was the sound of clanging shelves at KMart with the little screws.”
When pressed for an sound clip, Reynolds growls slowly, one syllable at a time, “I AM CUM.” He stops to giggle. “It was a very mindless kind of thing.”
Reynolds is not all ejaculate. He takes Buddhist teachings seriously, noting that, “Bad days are always like the guru. In Buddhism, your most important guru is your biggest problem. Your bad day, a fearful thought, that is the teaching to how to control the thought. If you stop for a minute and hold it—that voice in your head is OK, if you don’t let it be a judger and let it go by.”
All that perspective has led to two prongs of interest, the first being his insistence that, “The future evolution of humans is a conscious decision to stay present and bring in love.” The second, meanwhile, is a distinct amorousness with music in a metaphysical dimension, with Reynolds asserting, “The present is an infinite moment, and music represents that. When you play live, that’s just the present. When you have a recording, that involves both things: a past and present. It can bring up a sense memory from childhood, like total recall. To me, music is all about bringing that love, as it were, into the now.”
Reynolds’ last album was 2005’s “Parallel Universe,” a solo effort. With TR3 back after numerous incarnations and an eight-year hiatus, one might expect his focus to be back on songwriting—which it is. But still, after so much time alone on the road, could you really blame Reynolds for appreciating the…err…benefits of company?
“TR3 psychically goes back to the 60s. We have things that are all kind of spewing out in real time, like a wad of cum.”
Like a wad of cum?
“Unlike most of my interviews, I have my clothes on,” he says. “We’ll do another one in the future, and I’ll be naked. I am naked underneath my clothes, and I’m aware of that. It’s very sensual, you know. My skin is busting through my jeans.
“We’re all naked in here right now,” Reynolds assures me, referring to himself and his bandmates. “We’re not touching each other yet, but we will be soon.”
Stay Seminal, Tim Reynolds
DJ Deafening Cum