Friday, March 29, 2013

Everything I Watch Makes Me Cry

I just finished watching all 18 episodes of Freaks and Geeks, the 1999 dramedy series about high-school kids in 1980 Detroit, which despite the involvement of a murderer's row of current comedy stars, was canceled before the end of its first season.

That's too bad, because this show (and I know I am very, very late to the the party here) was really something special. Of the countless TV shows set in high school, this is the only one that actually made me feel like I was back in high school, that awful purgatory between being a kid and an adult, too much of both and not enough of either. It's so sweet and funny and sad and heartbreaking -- the writing is painfully true to life and the kids they cast, particularly John Francis Daley, Martin Starr, and Samm Levine as the freshman geeks, are probably the best child-actor ensemble ever. Out of the 18 episodes, probably 14 or 15 choked me up at one point or another.

But then, it seems like everything chokes me up these days. I don't know what's changed, but it seems like almost everything I watch on TV anymore gets me a little misty. Maybe it's because I'm a dad now and I love my little family. Maybe because I'm getting sentimental. Maybe because I'm just too old to care anymore if anyone catches me wiping my eyes.

For a long time, I didn't cry at anything, and it wasn't a conscious choice because I was embarrassed or anything -- I just couldn't do it. To the best of my recollection, I don't think I shed any tears at all in my 20s, except for two events: when I broke my femur in a bicycle accident, and when my wife and I left San Francisco (actually, it wasn't when we left but when we arrived in our new home of Newport, Kentucky. That would have made a statue cry).

I sincerely thought that I couldn't cry, that I was missing some kind of empathy chip. I saw Titanic in the theater, the only movie I've ever been to where the sobs of the audience drowned out the sound of the actual movie, and felt nothing. I once left my 1974 Fender Telecaster Custom in the trunk of a taxicab and never got it back. I couldn't talk about it for weeks, but I shed not one tear.

There were a lot of times that things did not go my way -- job loss, unrequited love, fallings-out with close friends, David Lee Roth almost but not quite getting back with Van Halen in 1996 -- that I sincerely wished I could cry it out. I knew it would make me feel better. I even tried to force myself to do it, the same way little kids try to make themselves cry to get out of trouble with mom and dad -- but I just couldn't.

I certainly do not have that problem anymore. Here is a partial list of things that have at least put a lump in my throat, sometimes get me misty, and in many cases made me reach for a tissue over the last few weeks:

*The documentary Searching For Sugar Man

*A written review of Before Midnight, the sequel to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, neither of which I've ever seen

*The a capella comedy Pitch Perfect

*"This American Life" on NPR

*"Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" on NPR

*The movie Friends With Kids

*The TV show Guys With Kids

*Oliver Stone's Untold History Of The United States

*President Obama's Inaugural Address

*Fox News coverage of President Obama's Inaugural Address

*The wedding episode of Parks and Recreation

*The time travel episode of How I Met Your Mother

*The Bachelor finale

*The Bachelor: The Women Tell All

*A McDonald's commercial

*A Subaru commercial

*A Volkswagen commercial

*A car insurance commerical

*The Five-Year Engagement

*Crazy Stupid Love

*Anything with a parent-child relationship

*Anything with a husband-wife relationship

*Anything with any kind of relationship

*Anything filmed with actors

*Anything filmed or animated with animals or puppets standing in for actors

Everything seems to make me cry is what I'm saying. I'm like John Boehner at a funeral in an onion field.

Movies that with bad performances, terrible scripts, and ridiculous premises can make me cry. Commercials that I see right through as obvious pandering make me cry. I knew I had a serious problem last night, when my wife and I took our six-year-old to see The Croods, a new animated film about a family of cavemen. When the paterfamilias, voiced by Nicolas Cage (!) tells his rebellious daughter (voiced by Emma Stone, the only working actress in America) reverses a lifetime of fear and cautious living and tells her to "never be afraid" -- a life lesson telegraphed as the movie's moral in the first 30 seconds of the movie -- I had to fight back a sob. I glanced over at my wife; she looked bored and eager for the movie to end.

It's embarrassing to admit to all this in a public forum -- if traffic as low as this blog's counts as public -- but it's the first step to solving the problem. The second step: Insensitivity Training. I plan to spend this and every weekend hence in front of my big projector screen, eyes pried open Clockwork Orange-style, with ABC Family playing 24 hours a day, while a series of laptops plays Love Story, Toy Story 3, Old Yeller, Sophie's Choice, and Terms Of Endearment on an endless loop while Loudon Wainwright's "Your Mother And I" plays in the background. And if that doesn't work, I will get rid of my wife and son, the obvious source of all this humiliating sentiment, by means probably best not discussed here (on the advice of my attorney). I will be a properly stoic American man if it kills me -- wish me luck.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The All-Asshole Band

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, so I admit it: I am addicted to rock docs. Rock books, too. For whatever reason, I seem to be infinitely fascinated by the sordid details -- and equally, the boring daily ins-and-outs -- of musicians who make it to the top of the pyramid, and I have the bathroom library to prove it. I once read a book about the Grateful Dead, and I HATE THE GRATEFUL DEAD.

So it was that, whilst channel-flipping not long ago, I came across the new documentary The History of the Eagles. I never particularly liked the Eagles, although the way their material transports me back into my 6-year-old self, when they were on every radio station three times an hour, is not altogether unpleasant. And, any way you slice it, The Eagles stood at the summit of Rock Mountain throughout the '70s, so I was interested in their story. Did they really start as Linda Ronstadt's backing band? How did Joe Walsh, a successful solo artist in his own right, end up as their second third guitarist? Did they snort all the cocaine in America while making Hotel California, or just most of it?

I got the answers to all these questions in the first half of the documentary. (The second half was about their cynical 1994 reunion and beyond.) But the main takeaway of the whole piece was that both Don Henley and Glenn Frey are huge, huge assholes, and worse, they're the kind of assholes that say huge asshole things right into a camera totally unaware of their own assholery. By the end of the Eagles' first run in 1980, they had driven out two of the other three original members, and shortly after the 1994 reunion they got rid of the guy who wrote "Hotel California" because he wanted everyone to be paid the same as Henley and Frey, as the Eagles became the first band to charge more than $100 per ticket for the record-breaking tour. (He submitted to their threat to fire him if he didn't take less money, and then they fired him anyway.)

I mentioned all this to my wife, who as she always does when I relate third-hand rock lore, did an excellent job of pretending to listen, and then she said, "Someone should make an all-star band of the biggest assholes in rock history." I love this woman more with every passing day.

So let's do it! Auditions for The All-Asshole Band start right now!

Lead Singers

Liam Gallagher: Watched his band, Oasis perform on MTV Unplugged from the balcony, claiming he had a sore throat (but really hung over), leaving his brother Noel to sing the songs himself. Bailed on Oasis' 1996 tour 15 minutes before the plane took off to go look for a new mansion. And in 1997, reached out the window of his limo and threw a cyclist off his bike completely unprovoked.

Axl Rose: Habitually hours late to Guns N' Roses shows at the band's early-'90s peak. Once there, likely to jump into the audience and attack uncredentialed photographers. Equally likely to spike the microphone like a football and end a show at any time if the security, or sound mix, or backstage accommodations are not to his liking. Forced original members of G N' R to sign over use of the band's name to him or be fired; once accomplished, fired them anyway.

Kanye West: I'ma let you finish....

Mike Love: Browbeat Brian Wilson into abandoning his broadly ambitious double-album "Symphony to God," Smile, because he thought it had "weird lyrics." Repeatedly accused of beating his wives and girlfriends. Recently fired Brian Wilson (or, if you want to get technical, elected to tour with his own band as The Beach Boys rather than take the opportunity to continue the surviving Beach Boys' 50th anniversary tour). And who could ever forget his acceptance speech at the Beach Boys' 1988 Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame induction?

Chris Brown: 

Scott Stapp: Singer of Creed, bad enough by itself. Threw a bottle of Orangina at his wife's head in an argument in 2007. Filmed himself getting blown by a stripper who was also blowing Kid Rock, and let the tape get out to the public. Went onstage so hammered, and gave a performance so bad, Creed became the first band ever sued for a refund.

John Lennon: Left wife, who he later admitted to having beaten, and young son at the height of the Beatles' career to be with Yoko Ono. Had a bed installed in the Beatles' recording studio for Yoko Ono. Broke up The Beatles, who he'd already been sabotaging for years through indifference and intransigence. Wrote "How Do You Sleep?" Got thrown out of the Whisky A Go Go for heckling the Smothers Brothers. Stiffed his son, Julian, in his will.


Courtney Love: Probably didn't murder Kurt Cobain, but certainly drove him to suicide. Hit an audience member with a microphone stand. Punched Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna in the face totally unprovoked on the first stop of the 1995 Lollapalooza tour. Overdosed on Oxycontin in the presence of her 10-year-old daughter Frances, who as a teenager would get a restraining order against her. Accused Cobain's former bandmate Dave Grohl of being "sexually obsessed" with Cobain, and later of trying to seduce 19-year-old Frances. Sold a Nirvana song to Major League Baseball, despite the fact that the song's author, her deceased husband, loathed sports. Dated Billy Corgan.

Ted Nugent: NRA mouthpiece, outspoken Republican. While still married to his first wife, became legal guardian to his 17-year-old girlfriend in 1978 so he could travel with her. Was the subject of this interview. Said all this ridiculous crap, including: "If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year." Has unfortunately reneged on that promise.

Billy Corgan: Such a control freak that he overdubbed his bandmates' bass and guitar parts himself. Is on record badmouthing nearly all of his contemporaries, including his former bandmembers, all of whom he's fired at least once. Accused Soundgarden and Pavement of reuniting purely for the money, right after touring as "The Smashing Pumpkins" with himself and three hired guns, playing no new material. Dated Courtney Love.

Ike Turner: Beat Tina like a house floor tom for years. Was arrested in 1980 for possession of seven grams of cocaine and a live hand grenade. Married 13 times. Estimated having spent $11 million on cocaine. Is responsible for this album cover:  

Dave Mustaine: Kicked out of Metallica for drinking too much, which is like getting kicked out of the Indy 500 for speeding. Birther and disciple of radio conspiracy nut Alex Jones. Told an audience that Obama staged the Aurora ('Dark Knight') shootings to win support for gun control.

Eddie Van Halen: Drove three different lead singers out of his band. Ended 1998 audition for Limp Bizkit by waving a loaded pistol at the band. Fired bassist for remaining friendly with previously fired singer. Let first fired singer believe he was being re-hired to generate publicity for greatest-hits record, then hired third singer.


Gene Simmons:
Sting: Named himself "Sting." Pointed to his own face and told the director of the "Wrapped Around Your Finger" video, "Just keep the camera on the money." Sued for songwriting credit on Dire Straits' "Money For Nothing," based on that "I want my MTV" intro. Always turns "Roxanne" into an 11-minute freeform jazz exploration. All that crap about tantric sex.
Don Henley: With Glenn Frey, fired all the other original members of The Eagles after years of stifling their songwriting contributions. Famously litigious, suing everyone who looks his way. In 1980, at age 33, called paramedics to attend to a 16-year-old girl who'd overdosed on cocaine and Quaaludes in his home. Continues to perform "Hotel California" even after firing guitarist Don Felder, who wrote every part of the song but the lyrics. Wrote "Dirty Laundry" and "All She Wants To Do is Dance."
Lars Ulrich: Napster.
Steve Albini: The list of bands he hasn't talked shit about would be shorter.
Phil Spector: Held his wife Ronnie Spector hostage in their home for years, locking her in closets and putting a gold coffin with a glass lid in the basement so he could "keep an eye on you after you're dead."  Wore a cape in the studio with the Ramones, and then forced them at gunpoint to keep recording. Shot and killed an actress in 2003.
Rick Rubin: Tried to persuade the Black Crowes to change their name to the Kobb Kounty Krows, and wear overalls and chew hay on stage. Tried to bounce Mike D from the Beastie Boys. Insisted the Beastie Boys make another party record like Licensed to Ill, prompting their departure from Def Jam and bringing the Paul's Boutique album to Capitol.
Peter Grant: Before a 1977  Led Zeppelin performance in Oakland, brutally beat members of Bill Graham's staff in a trailer over a misunderstanding involving Grant's 11-year-old son, then forced Graham to sign a waiver of liability for the man's near-fatal injuries before going on with the show. Routinely conducted business while brandishing a cricket bat and settled most disputes violently.
And lastly, what should this band be called? The Assholes? The Pricks? The Jerks? All I know is I don't want to see their rider.
This list is by no means complete. Who would you like to see in the All-Asshole Band? Sound off below, auditions are still open!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Everything I Remembered About The '90s Was Wrong

Fashion and music seem to coexist on a 20-year cycle. That is, 20 years after something comes into fashion, it seems to come back again for a revival. The '60s were really big in the '80s, and since I was in middle and high school in the '80s, my musical self-education was more about the Beatles and the Stones and Jimi Hendrix than U2 or Bon Jovi or Duran Duran. Likewise, tie-dye made a big comeback in the late '80s, although I had the uncharacteristic good sense to stay away from it. Similarly, bell-bottoms made a bit of a return in the '90s even as George Clinton and P-Funk suddenly found itself filling midsize concert venues again. And, bafflingly, '80s music made a monster comeback in the 2000s, as did Members Only jackets and Wayfarers and neon t-shirts and skinny pants.

In the '90s, as the '70s were getting dusted off just the same as the '60s had in the '80s (despite the fact during the '80s, people looked on the music and fashion of the '70s with undiluted revulsion), I remember thinking, well, there will never be a fashion revival for the '90s, because the fashion of the '90s is no fashion at all.

It certainly seemed that way at the time. Everyone seemed to be in jeans, plain T-shirts, and unbuttoned flannel, and after a decade of leg warmers, shoulder pads, miniskirts, ugly sweaters, designer jeans, parachute pants, and FRANKIE SAY RELAX, it seemed like everyone had recovered their sanity, or at least their bedroom mirrors, and toned things down for a less frivolous decade. This was also reflected in the music; out with Warrant and Poison, in with Nirvana and Alice in Chains.

The only fashion I really remember from the '90s was hip-hop guys wearing big pants, and that is not going to be getting a revival anytime soon because it never went away.

Anyway, I recently stumbled across a music video from 1993 that drove this point home like Morgan Freeman drove Miss Daisy: the 4 Non Blondes (awesome band name, guys!) classic "What's Up," which should have been titled "What's Going On" but couldn't be because of Marvin Gaye. It had been a long, long time since I saw this video and I'm guessing I'm not alone in that, but in 1993 it was in constant rotation on Ye Olde Music Video Channel. Let's have a look, shall we?

0:03 -- Starting things off strong with a ripped purple dress, work boots, and high white socks. She (I'm assuming it's a she) just threw this look together and she doesn't care at all -- you can tell because she left the boots untied. We're about more than what we wear in the '90s! 0:11 -- Wait, is that a dress, or a housecoat? It's open in front, so maybe the latter. So it's like a "I just rolled out of bed, pulled my biggest boots on, and went to band practice" kind of thing, but the huge hat tends to break the spell. And what is that guitar? I thought we had pretty much settled on a form factor for acoustic guitars. I guess I forgot that in the '90s, we challenged authority! Even if it meant we had to stand awkwardly and miss half our chord changes! Suck it, Reagan! 
0:20 -- It's definitely a housecoat, or at least, definitely not a dress. She's wearing white boxer shorts with some kind of jaunty design on them, sooo fetching. I would bet $5,000 that those legs aren't shaved, but pre-HDTV it's hard to tell. And let not another moment pass without addressing the oversized, wobbly-brimmed leather top hat with the desert goggles on it. Yes, the '90s were very restrained. Here we also get our first look at the other two guys, both of whom are also wearing big boots (one with his pants tucked into them, the other with his pants rolled up to the knee) and flannel shirts. Uniform nonconformity! 
0:28 -- Not even half a minute in, we come to possibly the worst bit of styling zeitgeist ever to make it out of the Grateful Dead parking lot: the white-girl dreadlock. This seems to have gone the way of the mullet for the most part, and let's hope it stays that way. Never mind how ridiculous it looks: have you ever been close enough to smell white dreadlocks? They're like a litter box full of Camembert with a spritz of Patchouli. 0:40 -- I remember hearing somewhere that this woman, whose name I don't feel like Googling -- oh, all right! Linda Perry! -- had a lucrative career as a songwriter after this band had its moment in the sun. Yes, Wikipedia confirms that she's the author of Pink's "Get This Party Started" and Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful," among others, which is strange, because it looks like she has never held, much less played, a guitar before this video shoot. She looks like she'd be more comfortable handling a greased baby alligator.
0:42 -- Same boots with an even '90sier accessory: the horizontal striped socks. The oversized yellow yo-yo is a nice touch. 1:11 -- I would love to know what the meaning behind the gumballs and the crystal ball are, but I have a feeling it's the same as the meaning of the big yo-yo: nothing at all. Music video: the only form of filmmaking where you can get away with just throwing a bunch of crap that means nothing together! 
1:20 -- Another awful '90s fashion: high-contrast makeup. That is, powdering your face pale and then using the reddest lipstick available. That's a great look if you want to attract a necrophiliac, but I like my ladies with a little more blood in their body. Maybe the choker is part of the problem.
1:39 -- Oh sweet, she's got ANOTHER ugly hat with ANOTHER ridiculous pair of goggles on it! Nothing, and I mean nothing, from the '80s can compare in terms of obvious affectation like a big ugly hat with goggles on it, and no I am not forgetting Hammer Pants.  It's in black and white (another very '90s flourish) so we'll never know, but I'd bet my house that hat is purple.
1:45 -- Holy crap! I think the bass player is a woman! It is a testament to her early '90s coffeehouse styling that it took me this long to notice. Given the cornrows, it is probably not an accident that we've had no closeups to confirm. 
1:48 -- I don't know who Ms. Perry is trying to appeal to looking into the camera with crazy eyes and grimacing like the Joker while she sings, but as a heterosexual male I am definitely not interested. I hesitate to speak for the lesbian community, but my hunch is that they are also not buying what she's selling, unless they happen to be on shore leave from a traveling circus. And with the smelly dreadlocks, ugh. Who knows, though? There's a lid for every pot. 2:25 -- Why does everyone in '90s videos look damp? I want to wrap them in a big blanket and give them soup. 3:00 -- What, I wonder, is all this playground imagery about? They're on the merry-go-round, they're on a carousel, they're on a swingset, they're in the sandbox... something about arrested development? (Ooooh! Arrested Development! There's a video we could mine for some bad '90s fashion. What was it? "Tennessee"?) 3:05 -- Quite the art collection in the 4 Non Blondes rehearsal space. 4:20 -- This song is way too long. No matter what you do over the next few days, I hope you enjoy having this song in your head, and if you don't I hope you'll take some small comfort in knowing that I am suffering right along with you. And let's all hope that the next generation of hipsters doesn't try to revive '90s fashion, because the '70s and '80s might have been a little silly but these people looked fucking ridiculous.
Linda Perry, 2010, after her surgery
to become an Oompa-Loompa.