Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Tony Soprano is Dead

I can’t sleep. I literally can’t sleep. The cause of this undesired alertness is Bob Harris, a blogger and author who dissected the last episode of the Sopranos in so stunning an analysis that I have goosebumps, I’m scared that someone is about to sneak into my window and kidnap me, and I’m convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Sopranos writer David Chase is the world’s foremost genius.

To summarize (although I strongly suggest reading it for yourself, despite its length): Harris points to a number of religious, color, and Sopranos themes to assertively declare that Tony Soprano was killed in the series’ much-debated final episode. For the uninitiated, the show ends with the Soprano family eating at a New Jersey diner, and while Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” cackles through the jukebox, the entire screen turns to black. Finished. Finito. Roll credits. There hasn’t been a water-cooler item so hotly discussed since the Clinton impeachment, and there hasn’t EVER been a water-cooler item so hotly discussed that doesn't involve a blow job.

Various theories abound—some say Tony was killed, and the black screen symbolically mirrors Tony’s own “fading to black.” Others contend that Tony was not killed, and the scene in the diner—saturated with tension and suspicious customers—implies that Tony’s life will be a harrowed, threatened affair. Chase, the creator, has been typically tight-lipped about his intentions, saying only that, “Anybody who wants to watch it, it’s all there.”

Since the show ends inconclusively—and, moreover, since this is a fictional work of art in the first place—there is no truth. Even if Chase were to come forward with his specific interpretation of the ending, it would still be up to each consumer to either accept or discount Chase’s convictions. The best anyone can do is to try and get inside Chase’s head, and use the contextual clues, recurring milieus, and cultural imagery to best deduce what happened.

Enter Bob Harris. A former TV writer (his most famous work includes season 3 of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation), he has more than a layperson’s concept of what Chase might be thinking. Harris’s founding premise is quite Biblical: nothing that appears in the final episode, and especially in the final scene, happens by accident. Because Chase is so famously meticulous, and because scheduling quirks afforded Chase about 26 months to write the finale, one must assume that overt, visible cues—including camera shots, wardrobe, color, and lighting—are all conscious choices.

Without going into too much painstaking detail, here are the salient reasons for Harris hypothesizing that Tony is killed. All of these are expounded upon at great, great length at the link above.

1—The “last supper” shot that pencils Tony in as a soon-to-die Jesus figure (Harris includes a screenshot on his blog; I still have chills just writing about it), replete with the Little Feat lyrics, “Rain starts washing.” The lyrics (see number 2) may be a nod to the holy water that is present at a Catholic Mass held at a funeral.

2—Besides for the holy water, we see separate screen shots of Tony, Carmela, and A.J. Soprano eating onion rings like communion wafers. Again, this would be laughable were it not for the fact that each camera shot was meticulously chosen and then shot during an hours-long process, and David Chase would not have wasted the last scene of the most successful drama in television history on onion rings were they not significant. Add to that a possible eulogy delivered by A.J. a few moments earlier, as Harris explains, and we might be staring down the barrel of a full Catholic funeral.

3—The whole diner scene reeks of the scene in The Godfather where Michael Corleone comes out of the bathroom with a gun and shoots Sollozzo—which happens to be Tony Sopranos’s favorite Godfather scene. To quote Harris:

“Tony's description of the onion rings -- "the best in the state" -- pretty directly references Tony's favorite Godfather scene: Sollozzo describes the veal as "the best in the city" before being shot by a man coming out of a bathroom."

Harris also mentions the guy wearing the Members Only jacket who sneaks off into the bathroom, and who precedes his jaunt to the latrine by repeatedly staring at Tony. So, to recap: you have the guy in the bathroom, Tony’s "best in the state" onion rings statement, and the diner/restaurant parallel. Oh, and the entire scene echoes Tony Soprano’s favorite clip from The Godfather.

All the parallels, the myriad layers, all the arrows pointing in the same singular direction; in other words, if these things are just coincidences, then David Chase spent a fortune, both in time and money, intentionally shooting meaningless symbols and unintentionally creating dozens of striking coincidences. Both the former and the latter seem laughably unlikely.

So is Tony dead? Who knows? I firmly believe that he is, and will not renounce my faith unless I am introduced to evidence that definitively disproves or explains away Harris’s essential points.

As for the rest of you, who still hold on to some glimmer of hope that Tony Soprano is alive and kicking, racking up gambling debt and hitting the highway with Paulie Walnuts?

Don’t stop believing.

[Cut to 15 seconds to blackness]

Stay Silent, David Chase
MC Meadow

Monday, June 25, 2007

Meet My Sons. They're on HBO.

What’s more glorious than Justin Timberlake, more iridescent than a sunrise, and more alluring than Odysseus’s sirens? If you guessed a freezer full of pizza when you’re stoned at 3 in the morning, you’re thinking along the right lines. The Discovery Channel special on Tobagan island life? Close.

The real answer: New Zealand.

What spawned my re-energized interest in this half-country, half-paradise was Flight of the Conchords, the folk/parody kiwi duo whose eponymous HBO show just debuted in the post-Entourage slot. Some portions are hilarious, others dreadful, but Jermaine Clement and Bret McKenzie (last names courtesy of never fail to impress with their down-under nonchalance and unique brand of Tenacious D-ism: their songs, which are far better than their spoken scripts, include such lines as, “I’m not crying, it’s just raining on my face,” and, “You’re so beautiful. Like a tree. Or a high class prostitute.”

So beautiful, indeed, is the land that spawned their hijinks, a land comprised of two unconnected islands—the North and the South—that offer, respectively, seasonal and temperate climates. But that’s not all—New Zealand is low on crime, high on education (and pot), moderate on politics, and fervent on human rights. Their bill of rights struck as particularly charming, since it includes the semantic flair that the U.S Constitution sorely lacks, and which has become something of an issue in modern Supreme Court cases. For instance, the American Constitution merely references “cruel and unusual” punishment, which leaves the door open to constant haggling over capital punishment, treatment of war prisoners, prison conditions—even prison term length is up for legal debate. New Zealand, though, is a bit more generous with its verbiage, stating in Section 9 [Torture and Cruel Punishment]:

“Everyone has the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, degrading, or disproportionately severe treatment or punishment.”

That eliminates astoundingly long prison sentences for things like growing marijuana (for which a number of individuals have been given life sentences with no parole—read Eric Schlosser’s “Reefer Madness” for more on that). It eliminates the public flogging of foreign detainees, and capably dismisses a horde of behaviors that might slip through a loophole in this country.

Next—freedom of religion? Please. New Zealand sees your freedom of religion and raises you the following:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief, including the right to adopt and hold opinions without interference.”
- Section 13 [Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion]

Now that’s what I call liberty. When I’m 38, and enduring a second mid-life crisis, I may move there. My first mid-life crisis is occuring presently, and it’s not all that bad. Some basic questions about the meaning of life, a few fruitful bouts of insomnia, wondering about meditation and spirituality, and a couple of days wherein I don’t feel like shaving. Maybe this is as bad as it gets, at least psychologically, since my life situation is conducive to feelings of aimlessness and melancholy. Once I'm almost 40, I'll hopefully have a couple of sons and a job that is at least tangentially pornographic.

Yes, I'll be 38 , with two boys, and one day I’ll collect them on my lap and tell them, “Jermaine, Bret, we’re moving to New Zealand. And it’s time you knew that I named you after the lead characters from an HBO series. And, by the way, I'm a pornographer. An amateur, but still."

Stay Stupendous, New Zealand
MC Moving

Friday, June 22, 2007

America's Heartlessland

Suburbia is a tragically simple target for criticism. Its characterization as meek, quiet, and spiritually desolate is only slightly more flattering than what is often the reality: a crass, de-citified bedroom community for a chicer urban center. In fact, suburban life is the target of odium the country over, since it seems to spawn an insubordinate brand of child, a restive, troubled youth whom delves into pastimes too deeply: for instance, everyone skateboards, but suburban kids believe in skateboarding. Everyone likes Sublime, but suburban kids venerate Sublime. Everyone enjoys a trip to the city, but suburban kids worship the city.

Most of all, suburbia is a culture of hallowed tribesmen and much-ballyhooed TV shows. There is a discernable, peculiar type of suburban self-effacement, in which suburban youth overlook themselves in favor of unattainable, preposterous abstractions of someone else’s life. In lieu of their own, these kids tell the war stories of siblings, cousins, friends, enemies—someone, anyone else. To borrow equine imagery, these horses mount a carrot in front of themselves, insistent upon basking in, and suffering from, others’ unattainable gains. There is no personal satisfaction other than what another has achieved. The anomie and purposelessness that plague each individual stands in stark contrast to the idolization of another, such that an entire social society is constructed in which many individuals think themselves inconsequential and everyone else eminent. Personal quiescence, even for a moment, cannot be.

At its worst, moreover, the psychological refrain for suburban kids is, “We are so alone—and no matter what we do, the TV has to go off eventually.” If my passions weren’t just as regrettable, and if I hadn’t been reared on The Simpsons and Just Shoot Me, I’d condemn everybody. But not only would that be rather insensitive, it’s also unnecessary; having grown up in a suburb myself, I am present to the censures that those with whom I grew up piled on themselves. Even if further rebuke was called for (and it’s not), it could never match the hand-wringing that goes along with the guilt and the “I shouldn’t be this way” that dominates the hearts and minds of kids who live inside a white picket fence and enjoy 1.5 siblings.

Limiting misery and discontent to suburban neighborhoods is a misguided, mistaken generalization. So too is eliminating the perfectly happy and content citizens who hail from the ‘burbs. But there is simply too much evidence—with myself and others as living, testifying primary sources—to discount the sobering emptiness that clouds over an empty suburban street at 11 at night, devoid of people and cars, the houses dark and their doors locked. It’s chilling, if not stupefying. How could a place be so emphatically joyless? How could it could be that the only place scarier than the forsaken street is inside one of those noiseless houses, where dogma and workaday pragmatism masquerade as warmth and joviality?

Stay Somber, Suburban Streets
DJ Doleful

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

If You Delete this Blog, Don't Worry. It's Saved as a Draft.

Have you ever saved an email as a draft? I can’t imagine why you’d ever do that. If something is important enough to save, then you wouldn’t write it in your browser in the first place; you’d write it in Word and save it there. Meanwhile, if something’s not important enough to make you bother with Word, then chances are it's not worth saving at all. To save something as a draft means it occupies the practically non-existent space between semi-importance (the lower extremity of the “Word” zone) and pedestrianism (the upper extremity of the “Screw It” zone). And I, for one, cannot think of a single thing that fits the criterion.

I’m fed up with Yahoo! Beta Mail inquiring as to whether I want to save my scrapped messages as drafts. Their offer is, at best, speciously gracious, since it’s plainly obvious that, if I’m dragging my mouse to an otherwise useless corner of the message field, then there’s no actionable chance that I’m exiting the message by accident. It’s like when you were really young and opened up a new document in Word, wrote a bunch of curses, bathroom words, things about your friend's sister, and gibberish, then clicked “close,” only to be prompted by Word to perhaps, if you wish, save the document. Shouldn’t there be some sort of artificial intelligence that makes the computer say, “Curses: check. Bathroom words: check. Sister shit-talking: check. Gibberish: check. Yup, let's not even bother asking if he wants to save this.”

The same thinking should apply to email. If I’ve written eight inane words, something along the lines of, “hey man, thx, keeping it relll, boobs BOOBS,” something should register in the Yahoo! server that automatically disables the “Would you like to save this email as a draft” function. Somewhere along the line, software designers became so obsessed with making their products intuitive that they’ve actually made them as unintuitive as possible: stupid prompts, excessive options (who really needs their mail homepage to be a different color?), and adolescent self-advertising (yes, I noticed the task bar. Now please go shoot yourself) are gumming up the works. Sending a simple email requires two clicks, the tab button, okaying the “message sent” screen, and a Valium.

The irony, of course, is that there are simple steps the email servers could take to make everything much easier. Stop clogging the page with advertisements that have nothing to do with my age and gender (both of which I disclosed to Yahoo! when I signed up for an account). Stop inserting millions of hyphens on the left-hand side of my forwarded messages. And you know how you’re supposed to be able to type the first letter or two of a saved contact into the “Send To” window and see all your contacts that start with that letter? That never, ever works. Ever. You’d have better luck finding a virgin in Paris Hilton's jail cell.

Finally, no email griping session would be complete without this—if all our computers have microphones, and even the most basic operating system can capture and record sound, then why isn’t there an email service that lets you speak into the computer while the system types for you? Is that really too difficult to fathom? There have been speak-to-type word processing programs for years—why can’t email work the same way?

Stay Superfluous, Email Options
DJ Draft Dodger

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Poker: Nature's End Game

Watching the 2006 World Series of Poker re-runs on ESPN is a solipsistic venture: one minute, Allen Cunningham exists, his inscrutable, narrow mien ripe with confidence and seven-card-stud savvy; the next, there is a commercial hawking deoderant, and Cunningham—poker face and all—is gone. True to the philosophy, one can only be sure of one's self, and anything or anyone beyond that, no matter how entertaining or adept at card games, is several levels removed from real. Then, just as quickly as they are delegitamated, Cunningham and his opponents are back, shunting their cards into the muck as if they have no idea that they were not extant a minute ago.
It would unfair to limit this all-or-nothing sociological experience to no-limit. Looking through a yearbook, old pictures, or even emails from a previous year could trigger the same phenomenon described above, a brand of universal Q-and-A that leaves one groping to enforce someone else’s life. And the questions go something like this—“If Allen Cunningham isn’t real right now, am I?” Or—“If Allen Cunningham ceased to be, then couldn’t I just as easily cease to be?” Suddenly, people with whom you’ve lost touch become vital indicators of whether or not you’re really there, for the simple fact that if you could look through a yearbook and swear—SWEAR—that someone “dropped off the face of the earth,” then what’s stopping that person from looking through their yearbook and assuming the same of you?
If we’re all human beings sharing in the same being-ness, then what’s to make you any less susceptible to sudden non-being than anyone else? What was once a solipsistic conviction (I know I exist, but I’m not sure about them) graduates to include you, as well—are any of us really here?
Well…yeah, dumbass. Of course you’re here. So am I. So are all of us. Just take a look around. Philosophizing your bleak aloneness might work in a diary or at a poetry club, but every last one of us is absolutely alive. We’re merely too feeble to grasp this constant reality, so we occasionally question it. That’s fine—it’s no worse than questioning global warming or objective morality or cigarette toxicity or—on the flip side—“that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We might “hold these truths to be self-evident,” but they’re not for us to hold or to let go. They simply are, whether we will them to be or not.

Stay Substantive, Allen Cunningham
DJ Deuces

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Datarock: Exonerating the Internet One Tracksuit at a Time

YouTube is either the thing for which I am most indebted to the Creator or a colossal waste of time. It might be both. Whatever the case, I find myself frequently watching videos and thinking, “I wish everyone in the world could watch this.” Admittedly, most of those times also involve Justin Timberlake and the co-occurring thought, “Lord, I hope nobody finds out I’m watching this. And that I’m not wearing a shirt.”

Whether or not YouTube has redeeming social value—and whether or not anyone should wear clothing, ever—is a discussion for another time. More pressing is the video you are about to see (assuming you copy/paste the URL; I can’t figure out how to include links in the text). It’s the music video for Datarock’s “Computer Camp Love.” Datarock, you may or may not remember, was the red-tracksuit-wearing, hipster-pleasing band I saw in Brooklyn with Robusto and JackO a little while back. JackO sent me the link for this video, which is noteworthy for a few reasons:

1-The tracksuits are in full bloom.
2-The song is about falling in love at computer camp.
3-Said love is seen to occur over a computer keyboard. Or, as I like to call it, “qwerty flirty.” You heard it here first.
4-Yes, that’s exactly what all of their songs sound like.
5-You’d have to be inhuman to not think the song/video are stirringly magnificent.

Check it out:

If I had my druthers (and no, “my druthers” is not an STD), I’d blog once a week about YouTube, post about 20 or 30 links to different types of media, and include a condescending comment or two about each one, as in, “This video is great—if you love WALNUTS.” Unfortunately, I don’t have my druthers, or, rather, I won’t allow myself my druthers, since I’ve read many a blog saturated with YouTube re-navigation, and it’s not exactly readable. You, the reader, find yourself constantly clicking out of the blog, forgetting which link you meant to click, and inevitably terminating the entire project by forgetting to “open link in new window.”

So enjoy Datarock. Try to think about the kind of posh suburban childhood that leads one to play music like this. Think to yourself, “If one of them is Jewish, then the Jews have come a long way from Egyptian slavery.” Ponder aloud, “Hey, what shade of red are those tracksuits?” Ruminate with a friend over the timeless query, “Why is Datarock one word? Shouldn’t it be two?”

Perhaps it should. But power lies in the question, not in the answer. That, if nothing else, is what YouTube has taught me.

Stay Sultry, Computer Camp
DJ Datarock

Monday, June 11, 2007

Air Stereo, Sweat, and the Far Northeast: The Damnwells in Concert

The Damnwells are a touchy subject for me. I know they’re not the best band in the world, and I also know that their studio records have so many layers that they couldn’t possibly reenact their songs at a live venue. However, I’ve listened to their new album, “Air Stereo,” no less than 465 times since it mysteriously arrived at my doorstep in an unmarked envelope with no return address and no note inside. It’s like the music gods sent me a cosmic musical offering to compensate for the post-modern classical concept music that regularly finds its way to my mailbox.

I didn’t know that a band from Brooklyn could be so genuinely self-deprecating. I didn’t know that their lead singer/guitarist Alex Dezen is better at constructing sentences than melodies (check out his blog at I didn’t know that I loved pop-rock so much. I also didn’t know that they wrote the quintessential generation-angst anti-establishment American ballad, “God Bless America,” a 10-minute opus that declares, among other things:

God bless America
And her catacomb flag
From purple mountain’s majesty
To the streets of Baghdad

Oh how I loved you
It’s true
Your churches and casinos
And happy hour, too
Do you ever need me?
Cause, baby, I need you

The Damnwells came through town about two weeks ago on a co-headlining tour with some dude from Brooklyn named Ari Hest. Coincidentally, in a pizza shop across the street from the venue, a late-twenties man told me just before the show that he “went to Horace Mann high school” with Ari Hest, and that Hest was “really awesome.” JackO and I didn’t stay for Hest, but we’ll take that guy’s word for it.

Were the Damnwells as impressive in person as they are on lined paper? No. Not even close. The show was uninspired, as both crowd and bassist appeared disinterested, and the only people in the room completely sold on what the Damnwells were selling were Dezen, the drummer, JackO, and myself. Particularly aggravating was the lead guitarist, who (for no apparent reason) wore a black suit and a bright red tie, as well as a prick-ish countenance and self-addicted scoff. All of which clashed heavily against the rest of the band, whose torn jeans and wrinkled, button-down shirts complemented their humility.

Still, despite all grievances, their songs came off well, and Dezen managed to sweat all over his equipment (metaphor?). He also called out the lead guitarist for his dress, noting that, “Dave’s from New Hampshire. He was going to wear shorts and flip-flops, but he’s used to dressing for the cold weather.”

Even better, the Damnwells concert filled out list of things that rock--and don't rock:


1. The Damnwells
2. Angst-ridden anti-Americanism
3. Choco Tacos


1. Formal attire
2. New Hampshire
3. Classical concept music

Stay Superb, Alex Dezen
DJ Damnwells

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Thrill is Gone. Thanks, Chuck.

Remember a week ago, when the world was alight with pastoral bliss? Neither do I. Nature’s synergy was overtaken by existential paralysis and a generally depressed malaise. All is fair in love and war, indeed, but unadventurous worldviews are entirely, disproportionately malicious. Sunday’s specific events are irrelevant, save for one: I finished Chuck Klosterman’s “Killing Yourself to Live,” in which the author motors a Ford rental around America in search of the spots that saw musicians either die or kill themselves. He travels to the ramshackle domicile in Seattle where Courtney Love shot Kurt Cobain, and to the Mississippi field that swallowed Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and Gaine’s sister/back-up singer Cassie. He stands over the intersection where Duane Allman and his motorcycle bit the dust.

Death, as a standalone focus point, is sufficiently depressing, yet also sufficiently commonplace such that it isn’t particularly wrenching. In other words, reading about death, about “killing yourself to live” (Klosterman’s hypothesis, according to page 13, is that, “Somewhere, at some point, somehow, somebody decided that death equals credibility…The greatest career move any musician can make is to stop breathing”) isn’t hopelessly saddening. What prompted my existential coma, though, were the following realizations:

1. Chuck Klosterman is a much better writer than me
2. Chuck Klosterman knows way more about music than I probably ever will
3. I don’t want to be like Chuck Klosterman

Klosterman is depressed. Yes, his placid-yet-passionate disposition is intelligent, trenchant, incisive, and insightful. His grasp of the connectivity cycling between life, death, music, love, and memory is astounding. But he’s extraordinarily sad, inextricably enveloped in his own misery. He could not be without his sadness, either; much like Cobain—or a score of other musicians—Klosterman’s genius is rooted in his moroseness, in his ability to see past optimism and strike right into the stripped-down, abstract heart of things.

Take this excerpt from page 113: “Living is dying, little by little. It’s a sequenced collection of individualized deaths.” Or his take on Graceland, Elvis’s birth- and death-place: “It’s the religiosity of garbage culture; it validates the import of tabloid aesthetics, and it makes our society look stupid.”

When he visits an ex-girlfriend, he describes of their interlocked phalanges, “We’re holding hands, but it doesn’t feel like the type of organic hand-holding that makes people feel secure.”

And finally, while bemoaning his unfailingly failed relationships, Klosterman drives the final nail into his (my) literary coffin:

“…the individual who embodies your personal defintion of love does not really exist. The person is real, and the feelings are real, but you create the context. And context is everything…For the rest of your life, they will control how you feel about everyone else.”

I recently heard that the way human beings construct problems is purely linguistic. We simply take two facts (x and y, not to be confused with the regrettable Coldplay album) and connect them with a “but.” For instance, let’s say that fact x is “I want to get rich.” Fact y is “I don’t have a job.” Those two facts don’t necessarily have to be related, and there is no problem directly embedded in them. It’s only when we verbally link them that a problem arises: “I want to get rich, BUT I don’t have a job.”

Klosterman is the same way. He is a marvelous writer, endlessly entertaining, and a potentially deadly drinking partner. He envisions his existence, though, as a gigantic, macrocosmic problem: I want to be happy, BUT I’m successful when I’m sad. His way of being is so thoroughly dispirited that he imagines his happiness and success as hostile, opposing forces. He purposely constructs himself so that one cannot exist with the other; predictably, he chooses success.

Having finished “Killing Yourself to Live,” I spent the balance of Sunday vacillating between adoration, pity, and envy for Klosterman. At some point, I realized that I am much the same way as him, and so are most people I know: we revel in our sadness. We don’t necessarily believe that life is empty and meaningless, but we passively accept that it is that way. The existential problem in all this, of course, is that all these insights don’t matter. As much as our actions may or may not have ultimate meaning, our philosophies really don’t. Clearly, spending all this time thinking about how I think is doing no good, and this realization, more than anything, has thrown me somewhere between panic and celebration. Hence the existential paralysis—I don’t know where I am, much less if it even matters.

Stay Sullen, Chuck Klosterman
DJ Dour

PS-Just to lighten the mood a bit, upcoming blog topics include the Damnwells (live in New York!), a Red Jumpsuit-laden YouTube video, and my appearance at the opening of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Film Festival.