14 September 2005

Call me Mike…TeeVee

Once I can determine which shows will stick in my rotation, I'm sure the viewing time will drop dramatically, but right now I feel like a junkie. Or I guess, just a typical American. Don't we watch an average of 4 hours a day? If I don't watch out, I'll be right on track.

Anyway, this week's thoughts:

Prison Break - I'm giving it one more week. There's no hook and no excitement. Not to mention that the whole thing is beyond contrived. Anyway, this week's episode came in at a solid C+, par for the course.

Gilmore Girls - only caught a few minutes of the premiere but I've got it taped. From what I saw, Rori continues her slide into utter unlikability and Luke and Lorelai argue pointlessly a lot. I've got high hopes, but then again, I'm (apparently) a 14-year-old girl. More thoughts after I catch the whole thing.

Other than that, I did manage to see bits and pieces of Encino Man over the weekend. I think they were running it continuously on TNT (surprise, surprise). Anyway, my pal Speed and I probably watched that movie 75 times in high school and I still love it. I've gotta say that Brendan Fraser bottomed out once he started accepting roles that includes more than five lines (with words exceeding 2 syllables). He's fantastic as the hotshot caveman who wins over the school and saves the day. And Samwise Gamgee gets the girl. You know you're dealing with a classic when the final PROM scene involves a caveman-inspired line dance. Wow.

09 September 2005

And so it begins…

You could say that the Fall TV season unofficially officially began last night. While a couple shows have already started their run (Prison Break), the season premiere of the OC pretty much signals that it's time to start weeding through the garbage and pick a winner or two.

Here's my breakdown, quick-like.

New Shows I'm Excited About:

Uhmmmm…nothing really. Prison Break has been fairly mediocre and last night's premiere of Reunion was downright pitiful. If you're going to set an episode in 1986, your main characters shouldn't be sporting hairdos from 2005. Honestly. One fella even had a faux-hawk. And no one used the word "rad." A complete swing and miss.

Returning Shows I Wish Started Tonight:

LOST - duh.

The Office - as a massive fan of the British version, I never thought I'd accept the NBC attempt. But I caught some episodes over the summer and who knew…? They were hilarious. Newsflash! Steve Carell is funny! This show's gonna be a hit!

24 - but not 'til January.

the OC - yeah, so it was last night, but there's always something charming about this semi-guilty pleasure. Blah blah blah. If you really want to read about the OC, check this out. A startling, day-long back-and-forth between ESPN.com's Bill Simmons and Josh Schwartz (creator/writer/producer of the OC).

Gilmore Girls - I can't believe I actually just typed that. I'd better not say any more.

ALIAS - mainly so that I can make my final decision to shut the show down. Word is a couple younger agents will be taking over for Miss Bristow and that J-Garn's pregnancy will be written into the show. Ugh. Yuk. Gross. How did this happen? And Ben Affleck is the father? Really? I will now remove my fingernails and plunge my hands into a vat of lemon juice.

Arrested Development - no kidding?


Grades on last night's shows:

the OC = solid B

Reunion = D+

Maybe I'll do something like this every week. Maybe. I mean it's only been like 6 weeks since my last post. Yikes.

09 August 2005

Upon Further Review…

It's been nearly two weeks since Sufjan Stevens braved the sweat shop currently known as Lo-Fi Cafe in SLC (more on that later), and I think I'm finally ready to discuss the performance.

Usually, an introduction like that is cause for apprehension. In the case of Sufjan and his band of Illinoisemakers, however, it's simply an indication of their brilliance. For 12 days, I've been thinking through the show. Replaying it backward and forward in my memory. Waiting hopelessly for bootlegged tracks to appear on scattered blogs. Downloading the entire next-day show in Denver (welcometothem!dwest). Rewatching video footage from a show in San Francisco (youaintnopicasso). And, obviously, wishing I had tickets to any number of Sufjan's soldout shows--five of 'em!--in NYC later this month.

The truth is, I think Sufjan's live show has cured me of the obsession so well chronicled on this very blog (and by hundreds of other fanboys/girls on their respective webspots). Obsession has been replace with pure admiration. Sufjan Stevens is an artist. And that's the best I can probably do to review his act. So while I ramble on for a couple thousand words, just remember this: To call him a songwriter or a musician or a historian or a storyteller just doesn't cut it; Sufjan is an artist, period.

With the day-time, outdoor highs near 100°F, the crowd was already glistening by the time the doors opened an hour late. And when the smoke-and-shadows voiced Liz Janes hit the stage, the Lo-Fi Cafe was practically packed and humidity was climbing by the second. Lo-Fi is a dump. An out-and-out pig sty. It's small. It's shabby. And it lacks any form of ventilation. Two lonely ceiling fans fight the impossible multiplication of body heat and three-digit temps. Let's leave it at this: by the time Ms. Janes finished her five song set, she was soaked. And so was I. And not in a slightly-sexy, misted with a kiss of rain sort of way. We're talking just plain old sweaty. Somehow, Liz Janes delivered and soothed, closing with a mindboggling, ukulele-crushing version of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."

Following some mandatory gear shifts and some pleasant costume changes--you may or may not know that Sufjan and his crew sport blazing Illinois cheerleader outfits, men in tees and orange sweatpants, women in tees, orange skirts and navy leggings--astute fans could catch Sufjan and crew in the back corner of the venue, huddled and cheering. Sufjan Stevens and the Illinoisemakers were working themselves into a frenzy, bouncing and shaking their pompoms (yes, pompoms). In seconds, they stormed the stage and launched into the thematic "Fifty States Song" (you can hear a snippet at www.sufjan.com).

This all sounds too gimmicky, too press-hungry. But the thrill of Sufjan is his earnestness, his realism. Sufjan Stevens has not undertaken the fifty albums for fifty states as some sort of trick, but as a celebration of each piece of the Union. All you need is to hear Sufjan sing the beautifully harrowing "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." and you know that this is serious stuff. Recounting the horror of serial killings, Sufjan employs a falsetto that simply cannot be described. His final declaration, "and on my best behavior/I am really just like him" had me proclaiming that it was sweat rolling down my cheekÂ…and hoping that standers-by would believe it.

And did I mention the intermittent cheers? Raising pompoms and sporting well-choreographed hand signals, the Illinoisemakers spouted literate shout-outs in relation to a number of songs. The prize-winner: Metropolis, in which Sufjan managed to include references to Balki Bartokomous (Bronson Pinchot's character from "Perfect Strangers") and Webster Papadapolis (Emmanuel Lewis's character from "Webster"). Outstanding.

So when Suf and the eight-strong symphonic players launched into Come on Feel the Illinoise (the album's title track), I could hardly contain my awe. Sufjan explored the piano--nearly matching the Stevie-Wonder-esque chops he showcased on "They Are Night Zombies!!"--while others contributed by trumpet, guitars, percussion, banjo, and vibraphone. Vocally, all but the redheaded drummer chimed in, delivering harmonies Brian Wilson would certify. By the time the song hit the Cure-inspired midpoint, jaws were dropping. Even in the 110-degree/95%-humidity conditions, there was no stopping the Illini gala. Sufjan whisper-sang of Carl Sandburg's ghost and the musicians abated, isolating their frontman with their absence. With just slight backing from the drum kit and the occasional flourish elsewhere, Sufjan delivered and repeated Sandburg's pointed, dreamy supplication: "Are you writing from the heart?"

It's a question Sufjan doesn't take lightly. Every word is considered, re-considered and ultimately placed for maximum impact. Stevens' training as a fiction writer is both apparent and appreciated. In interviews, he has proclaimed his un-rockstar-like affinity for the workshop process. This is a man who recognizes the necessity of revision, and his songs are a reflection of his devotion.

Following the closing bars of "Come onÂ…", I just couldn't help it. At the quietest (and sweatiest) moment, I spoke everything I could muster. I uttered the words that wouldn't leave my head. As Sufjan moved from keyboard to guitar, I stared him down and said "WOW!" And I said it loud. And everyone agreed. This was music. This was art. This was performance. In response, one of the female Illinoisemakers looked up toward me and yelled back "And I'm doing this in leggings!" And she couldn't have been more correct. Not ironic leggings. Not funny leggings. But real live, honest-to-goodness cheerleader leggings. No one sweats like that for a laugh.

For some, Sufjan's appearance may have been little more than a sweaty ode to Illinois, but for those who cared to listen between the ting of the triangle and the pluck of the banjo, there was more at stake. While Sufjan Stevens exposes and extolls the treasures of statehood, while he revels in history and coincidence, he becomes the very thing he celebratesÂ…the pure essence of identity, the defining moments of a landscape. It sounds hyperbolic, but Sufjan Stevens is America. And in Salt Lake City, he was everything we could ask for. Even a brief savior from an unrelenting heat.

22 July 2005

Defeat on the Heels of Victory

I actually invited Sufjan Stevens to lunch. Here's my exact request to the folks at his record label (asthmatic kitty) in Wyoming (Wyoming?! People record and distribute music in Wyoming?!):

So this may sound strange… oh well.

I know he's fairly busy these days, but could you ask Sufjan if he's
got the time and/or inclination to have lunch on July 28th in SLC?
I'll pay for the sandwiches and kettle chips. And there's even some
legitimacy to my request:

My friend (and co-worker) Dainon is a bona-fide rock writer and, well,
he'd be happy to scribble a few notes on a napkin and turn the whole
lunch experience into real, live online documentation.

You could even come along as well. SLC's not far from Wyoming and I'll
spring for sammiches and chips for the whole gang.

Anyway. Thanks for at least entertaining the notion.


The response (surprising unaccompanied by a restraining order):

Hi Matt,

Thank you very much for your request. As it is, Sufjan's schedule is
extremely tight - Boise, Salt Lake City and Denver on 3 consecutive days -
we are sorry to have to tell you that your proposal won't be realizeable.
Thank you for the invitation,



Anyway. I think that has ended my creepy obsession and now maybe I can rectify the punishment I have inflicted on all four of my readers. No more Sufjan blogs (except maybe one post-concert write-up) from here on out.

I working on something good. Resurrecting old emails from my days at the FRED that need further exploration. Things like "Who are the ugliest basketball players of the last 25 years?" or "Top 5 Songs that feature prominent whistling." Brace yourself. I think I'm in recovery.

12 July 2005


It's gonna be hard to believe, but I won. I have battled the mighty insurance monsters and escaped with a narrow victory. I am Brad Pitt in The Mexican. I have brutalized the brutes! Bruce from SelectQuote called last night and it's official: I AM A NON-SMOKER! I can't believe it either. Now I have to give up my pack-a-day habit? Seriously? I had gracefully accepted the smoker lifestyle. I'd started hanging out on the apartment porch and smoking while I tipped back Diet Pepsi's and talked endlessly on the phone. (I learned it all from the more-than-slightly overweight woman with an upstairs apartment near our parking space). I'd even entertained the idea of storing a month's worth of trash out on the balcony to keep me company. Sadly, I had drawn the line at letting our li'l one maintain a diaper-only wardrobe. I guess my commitment wasn't as deep as I'd liked it to be.

At any rate, I'm still in shock over the victory. This never happens. I am ERIN BROCKOVICH! (SOMEONE CORRECT MY SPELLING!) I CAN'T STOP USING CAPS LOCK! WHY AM I SHOUTING?

So now I begin the steady process of quitting. And have you seen the price of those NicoDerm patches? Seriously. At least I've got the low life insurance premiums to ease me through the withdrawals.

11 July 2005

Liner Notes and Pronunciations…What Else?

Obviously, I've got a problem. "Come on, Feel the Illinoise" arrived on Thursday and I've been reading liner notes like a 12-year-old girl. Not that there's anything wrong with that…

Anyway, Sufjan's a genius and I have officially (I think) crossed the line between casual fandom and creepy obsession. I'm seriously planning out my email to his record label to ask if he'll have a sammich and some kettle chips with me on July 28th before his show at the Lo-Fi Cafe. I oughta just do everyone a favor and rename this blog "I [heart] Sufjan."

In other news, the pronunciation of his name is still up for debate. The latest (and most definitive) version is SOOF-yan. So that's the one I'm going with for now. At least until I read something else.

And by the way…the album's still fantastic and someone'd better pry it outta my cd player and delete it from my iTunes before it becomes absolutely hardwired into my brain.

01 July 2005

Feel It! Feel It!

The official title of Sufjan Stevens' new album--"Come on Feel the Illinoise"--may be one of the best album titles in years. Anyway, I'll keep my crushing admiration for Sufjan short this morning, but you can listen to the new album here. It's beyond fantastic and I'm thinking about buying a copy for everyone I know. It's one of those albums. You wanna give and give and give some more. That's all. Listen online. Pre-order here. Feel the Illinoise.

Cheekie Monkeys

This post is a li'l late, since it's been nearly two weeks since the miraculous gathering of the Cheekies. If you're a casual reader--someone outside of my immediate circle--this probably means nothing to you. Feel free to move on to other pursuits. But seeing a rather large gathering of old college friends can be a wonderful and slightly bizarre thing. People are the same but different. Kids roam the grass. But the barbecued turkey (try it!) is still fantastic. The stories are unequaled. And I can't stop wishing I was 21, foolish, and undeservingly blessed with a tribe of like-minded comrades again. At any rate, it was too short and I can't shake the dreams of an FLS reunion tour.

20 June 2005


I'm a firm believer that you only get so many exclamation points in your lifetime. If you're careless and use them excessively, odds are you're gonna die young. But Sufjan (soo-faan) Stevens' new album, Illinois, deserves every superlative I can muster.

Thanks to D. (the full-blown rock critic), I got my sweaty li'l hands on an advance copy of Illinois and I haven't been able to keep it outta my ears. I'm becoming a li'l obsessed and I may or may not have asked D. to work his connections to arrange a one-on-one meeting. Embarrassing, I know. But after reading Sufjan's fantastic Pitchfork interview, I'd like to buy the guy a sandwich and some kettle chips.

If you're not familiar with Sufjan's work, check it out. Suf's a tale-weaving musical mastermind and Illinois is nothing short of spectacular. I'm sure I'll have more to say about the album in coming weeks. I may even attempt a real-live album review, with scaled stars, directional thumbs, percentage points and everything. For now, lemme just say that I've already pre-ordered my official copy of the album and it'd better include some serious liner notes.

With Michigan already under his belt, Illinois gives Sufjan #2 in his quest to craft an album for each of the 50 states. It's an ambitious project, but I've no doubt that he's capable. The only question is whether Utah will merit full LP status or will be hopelessly relegated to a four-song EP.

Just Call Me Big Papa

In response to the last posting, C. advised me that I should get L. (my son) to call me "Big Poppa (Papa)" a la Notorious B.I.G. I really have no idea what this means. I understand the Biggie Smalls reference, but does this mean my "weight problem" is now a full-blow catastrophe? Is it time for drastic measures? No more late night ice cream? No more Double Stuf Oreos? Time to count calories and carbs like a neurotic diet freak? All I know is that I went to the gym this morning and I'm doing my best to avoid any more comparisons to dead overweight rappers.

19 June 2005


I'm not sure how it happened but my son has always called me "papa." So to hear him say (in the garbled pronunciation of a 2-year-old), "happy father's day!" is kind of funny. He should probably say "happy papa's day," but I'm not complaining.

It's going to be easy for this post to slip into cliché and sentiment, so I'll try and keep things straight for all 7 of you who read this. Today, this is my thought: Dads have never been more important. In no way does this statement discount the role of a mother, but fathers provide an intangible stability to a family. Or at least they should. I'm working at it as best I can, and I can only hope to one day equal the power of my dad. I'm fully convinced that any and every success of my life is a direct result of my father's commitment to our family. His sacrifice (continual) and strength (superhuman) provide an essential blueprint as I try to figure things out for my own li'l familial unit. Before I let this turn into some sort of essay, I'll just say this: I love my dad, and I have always known that he loves me…and my life has been wonderful because of it.

15 June 2005

for the record…

I saw my mom this weekend and she kindly corrected my Mother's Day blog. She demanded--okay, it was a mild suggestion--that I issue one small clarification: My mother is not, nor never has been crazy. Furthermore, she has never stated that having eight kids was a crazy thing to do. Call it hyperbole or just plain b.s., but I thought my version of things was much more entertaining. After all, most moms have gotta be a li'l crazy to put up with the likes of each of us.

Anyway. Just another quick note: I may have a lead on an early copy of Sufjan Stevens' new Illinois album. And, no, I couldn't be more excited about this. I love the Sufjan and I may even have found a definitive pronunciation of his name (soo-faan; thanks D), which makes my enjoyment all the more complete.

08 June 2005

A Cautionary Tale

Saturday night I caught about 40 minutes of a Shakira video retrospective on Galavision (don't ask…the spanish-language channels always seem to suck me in). The production value was horrible and I only understood about 65% of what was going on--which is terrible considering I lived in Guatemala for two years and used to speak and understand Spanish without much trouble at all. Still, the program was fascinating. Showcasing interview clips and relying primarily on music videos from Shakira's early albums, the program shocked me.

I used to enjoy Shakira. In her Spanish-only days, she was intriguing for a number of reasons: 1) she's from Colombia, but her father is American-born and her mother is Lebanese; 2) her music is best classified as electro-acoustic-dance-pop-rock with Middle Eastern flair and TexMex influence; 3) her hips move in an unlawful manner; and 4) her voice. For the most part, her first major label albums (Pies Descalzos and Donde Estan Los Ladrones) were mashups of the above mentioned styles. A li'l chaotic, but all sorts of fun. And her MTV Unplugged set is a borderline buy-it-for-all-your-friends album--heavy on the horns and chock full of Shakira goodness.

Alas, Shakira had more on her mind than a conquest of Latin America. She wanted the adoration of millions of moronic U.S. fans. So she did the only logical thing. She wrote and recorded horrible songs in English, and she started wearing less clothing. I guess it's inevitable, but that doesn't make it less tragic. Shakira's Laundry Service sold a bazillion copies and now she's releasing a Spanish-language album this month, to be followed by another English bomb this fall. I'm sure you'll be seeing a barely-clothed Shakira shaking everything she's got across every channel in your TV Guide. So brace yourself. But if you're feeling brave and you'd like to know how truly disturbing Shakira's fall (or ascension, if you're her manager or accountant) really is…snoop around and find some of her old videos. They're fabulous and they hint at everything Shakira could have become, but rejected.

03 June 2005

Puffy Shoes and Girl Pants

I recently hired an intern at my place of employment. It seems to be en vogue these days. Interns are cheap and expendable and all sorts of fun. This one's no exception and we like him enough that we might keep him around for a while. He's proven that he's less expendable than the typical part-timer and he makes everyone laugh enough that we tolerate certain things.

I'm fully aware that what I'm about to write proves that my rapid spiral toward grumpy old manhood has accelerated to frightening levels, still, I'm mystified. I'd heard recently that young fellas had taken to wearing women's pants. I guess girls' pants is probably a better description. My sister had detailed the phenomenon, but I guess I was still skeptical. Until the Intern starting looking for girl pants on his lunch break. I shouldn't exaggerate. He's only looked once during lunch that I'm aware of. Today, in fact. We had some tasty sandwiches at Quizno's and then we saw a li'l Tent Sale in the parking lot. We skipped over and soon the Intern was spinning through a couple racks of size 2s (he's a slim cat). It should've stopped there, but soon we were headed into the adjoining retail space of the tent-saling shop to check out their on-hand selection of super-slim jeans.

I won't pretend to understand what's happening here. I find it amusing and a li'l strange. Kinda like the disturbingly puffy skate shoes that somehow match up with the feminine pantalones. It takes all my strength to maintain some sense of hip. I'm just a pair of man-capris away from some sort of "I'd like to round them all up and give them a haircut" diatribe. It's pathetic. I'm 29 and I act like I'm 63. As long as the local Denny's doesn't change the early bird specials, I might have a chance at surviving the future.

31 May 2005

Feliz Cumpleaños

I'd like to continue to blame jetlag for my lack of productivity, but I'm sleeping just fine. The cause is something more insidious and painful--laziness, malaise, complacency. Throw in a three-day weekend and my birthday and I'm truly hopeless.

Speaking of birthdays, I've missed all kinds of them. So forgive me if you will. Speedy, Nils, whoever else. It's not that I don't care, it's just that I'm a bad person. But you probably already know that. So let's move on.

I recommend When We Were Kings--a 1996 documentary about the Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire--to anyone who cares one bit about personality and perspective. I've heard it before, but it took this li'l film to force the point: Ali was a one-of-a-kind. He captivates and entertains and mystifies like no other athlete had or will. His fearless interviews and unruly responses were both shocking and beautiful. Ali was a poet, even in an academic sense. Language obeyed his commands and words twisted to follow his jabs. It's sad to think that Ali would be devoured alive today. We simply can't handle brilliance anymore. We're afraid of athletes who say something beyond "We just need to play harder." We're petrified when an athlete exhibits political opinions. And if he were on the scene today, we'd call for Ali's head every time he opened his mouth. We've smoothed over his rough spots and his current physical condition paints an illusion of harmlessness. If it weren't for his deteriorating motor skills, I have no doubt that Ali would be tearing us all apart today. And I'd be loving every second of it.

22 May 2005

Where am I?

This is assuming that someone out there actually cares, but I'm sitting in a hotel room in Singapore right now. I've been in Thailand for the past week. And I guess that explains the lack of activity on this here blog. I'm sure this trip'll occupy more space than justifiable once I get over the jetlag. Until then…

12 May 2005

Singin' Along with the Shins

Maybe I'm getting old. Or maybe I've reached a new level of elitist snobbery. A zealous nirvana of sorts. But last night, I should have reached a furious froth. I should have been kicking walls and pulling on earlobes. Last night, the Shins played to a packed house at the University of Utah's Olpin Ballroom. I'd guess there were close to a thousand bodies packed into the poorly set-up scene. And I'd bet all my Jennifer Garner refrigerator magnets that most of them were born after 1985.

A year ago, I would have fumed. I would have mocked and insulted the li'l grommets. I would have intentionally stepped on ankles and made jokes about parents waiting to pick them up out front. But last night, I just laughed.

The Shins are a good band. They write fine songs. And they perform them capably. I'm happy for the Shins. If they can make some cash and strike while the iron's hot, more power to them. If this lets them quit their day jobs, outstanding. There are certainly worse things that the Shins getting a li'l play and paying some bills. For crying out loud, Maroon5 has had like 7 top 10 singles. If I want to get raged, I'll think about that injustice and crime against humanity. But the Shins don't merit my wrath. They released a superb debut and followed it up with an outstanding sophomore record. They really can't be blamed for dropping a few songs on a soundtrack and then promptly blowing up. There are greater forces at work.

One of the most disturbing/amusing developments of the last year is the marketing of the indie dork lifestyle. It's been written about (read a superb article here), discussed endlessly in hipster blogs, and even self-referenced on the show that many blame for the mainstream-ization of indie-ness, the O.C. And last night it hit me: it's never been more to cool to be a dork.

As a life-long semi-geek, it's a little disturbing. I'm still getting used to the idea that glasses are cool, that people wear them as fashion accessories. Really? I was mocked from kindergarten through high school for wearing glasses…and now they're cool? Wow. And bad hair and skinny clothes and shirts that don't fit…they're cool too? Well… ok… I guess.

You can see why I might get upset. It's not just my musical tastes that have hit the Billboard Top 100. It's my clothes, my shoes, my spectacles, my hair, my lingo, my lack of peak physical fitness, my friends. I'm just waiting for an inexplicable attraction to bacon to become fashionable.

My sister-in-law has a theory about the people who stand in the front rows at concerts. It's simple: Most front-rowers don't deserve to be there. Last night, the theory became law. It was fantastic. These kids are youngsters, so they can't be faulted for a lot of things. Nonetheless, I've gotta break down the front-row behavior.

Because the house was packed and the sound was generally bad from any spot in the "ballroom," we (K and I) took a post at the side of the stage. The view was outstanding and the sound wasn't any worse than anywhere else. But mostly, we had an uncluttered view of the front-row kids. Mostly, the shaggy-hair boys and skinny, straight-hair girls pogo-ed and stared at each other. Yeah, the band was playing, but they were more concerned with their peer status. "Look at me! I'm at the Shins! Oh my heck!" It was kinda cute actually. But two things floored me: 1) A newspaper photographer was snapping a few band candids and made the mistake of turning the camera on the kids. After he went back to the band, the kids spent the next 15 minutes hassling and begging him to take their picture--hanging over the railing, waving, yelling, etc. And, yes, the band was still playing. They're 4 feet from the Shins and they're dying for buried-in-nowhere coverage from the Daily Herald. And 2) I'm still laughing about this, but I watched a girl form the universal rock'n'roll hand signal and then she spent a solid 30 seconds grooming it. No joke. Inspecting her hand and arranging her fingers just so before she thrust her "Rock On!" out into the open. You couldn't make this stuff up.

Despite the comedic crowd action (and completely unnecessary sing-alongs--what is it with kids and sing-alongs? I just don't get it. Who sings this song? The Shins. That's what I thought. Let's keep it that way.), the Shins were solid. Like I mentioned, they're capable fellows. Still, I've been trying to figure out the problem with the show. It's difficult to pinpoint the exact shortcomings, but let me say this: The Shins need to get off the road. They know their songs too well. They're too comfortable with them. And whether they lack the skill, mischief or adventure required to dismantle and rediscover their catalog, or they're just plain road-weary, they need to take some time and figure out where they stand. They plowed through song after song without any noticeable improvements or diversions. Nearly every song was album-quality. Some a li'l better, some a li'l worse--but no thrilling departures.

And that might be the underlying void--there's no tension at a Shins show. The crowd is pleased just to be able to tell their friends they were there (or to text-message their friends while the band is playing an encore--saw girls in the front row doing just that). And the band is content to play their hits and semi-hits and collect some cash. I don't blame the Shins for making a li'l bread and quitting their day jobs. In the end, a break is a break and taking advantage of it may make them a better band. But for now, there's no drama. I never felt like things might spin out of control. I'm a biased Wilco-head, but at several points in a Wilco show, I'm afraid that one misstep could lead to a full-blown implosion and that the roof might fall in on my head. Not so with the Shins. The closest thing to danger is the fear that the chubby keyboardist might keep on talking well into the night.

This isn't to say that there were no highlights. New Slang is still a great song. And I couldn't help but feel a touch jealous of the under-20 crowd to whom the song seemed to mean so much. They've taken Natalie Portman at her word and pretend to grasp the even the difficult lines: "Godspeed all the bakers at dawn/May they all cut their thumbs/And bleed into their buns." What's James Mercer saying? No one knows, but gee, it sure sounds pretty. And the blistering closer "So Says I" with the unparalled "Woo-hoo-ooh-hoo" payoff even had this leadfooted jerk tapping his toes and bobbing his head.

There's hope for the Shins. Mercer is a fantastic singer with a voice that creeps into what the Am Idol judges would call the "upper register" and the band plays a tight set. The keyboard player needs someone to stand behind him and whisper "Less talk, more rock, son" but that's a cosmetic fix. Worse bands have risen to greater heights. The Shins are still infants and perhaps I should cut them some slack. But it's no sin to hold an artist (or band) to a higher standard based on phenomenal studio work.

The Shins just need to be brave. They can cut away and build back up. They can rinse and repeat. If I can smile through a night of improbable indie marketing and shaggy-haired head flips (gotta keep the mop outta the eyes and perfectly flipped), then anything is possible.

10 May 2005

The Difficulty of Starting Smoking

Last week, I found out that I smoke. Normally, this sort of news isn't news. Normally, you know when you smoke. The rough-looking lady in the 1978 Ford pick-up--she smokes the unfiltered goodness to the tune of a pack-and-a-half a day--and no one ever has to remind her. I, on the other hand, needed a phone call to figure out that I smoke…and therefore will have quite a bit of trouble getting life insurance.

Now that I've got a wife and a two-year-old, the responsible thing to do is to pick a li'l life insurance and take care of my crew. So I've tried to do just that. Actually my wife has set the whole thing up. Made the calls. Answered the questions. Even woke up early a couple Saturdays ago, filled a cup with urine and let a nurse draw a couple vials of blood. I was feeling all right about the situation. I was feeling like a man taking care of his family.

Then I got the fateful call. "You have tested positive for nicotine." Hmmm. The (not-so) funny part is that I don't smoke. Never have. Never sparked up a Marlboro, or a stogie, or a pipe. All I can think is, "This is what I get for spending my formative years in Taft, CA--a burned out oil town 35 miles outside of Bakersfield. (yes, there are places 'outside' of Bakersfield. And, oh yeah, they are incrementally more depressing.) Seriously. All that community secondhand smoke from 1987 to 1994 must have really done some damage.

So the insurance company won't budge. A positive test is a positive test. Even if you're positive by two one-hundredths of a point. Even if you've never smoked a fleck of tobacco. Even if you have signed affidavits from everyone you've ever met. Even if you had your upstairs neighbor evicted for piping her foul cigarette smoke into your apartment.

They say the first step to recovery is admission. So here it is: I'm a smoker. A sad, uninsurable smoker who enjoys none of the narcotic effects of his preferred drug.

07 May 2005

Dia de la Madre

Tomorrow is Mother's Day and all I can say is it's about time. I could drag this out for a couple thousand words or so, but let me do it like this:

Moms rule.

For 29ish years, my mom has put up with the worst. Eight kids. I'll say it again: Eight kids. Now, she even admits that she must have been crazy. And she kinda was. She did things that still don't make a lot of sense. Like dragging me out of 3rd grade to go home and make my bed. Or like telling my brother that if he didn't finish his oatmeal, she'd feed it to him through his ear…and then doing exactly that. Or like playing connect-the-dots with my sister's freckles. But I'm gonna cut her some slack. Why?

Because I remember that she held me and let my cry it out when I was four and the other kids left me in the dust on my big wheel. Because she taught me to ride a killer bike with a banana seat. Because she helped me believe that there was hope for a 13-year-old with glasses AND braces AND a spelling bee title. Because she endured my senseless 17-year-old rage when I misplaced some ridiculous necklace and blamed it on her 'cuz she had cleaned my room earlier in the week. Because when I returned from living in a third-world country, she ran to the gate yelling "My boy! My boy!" Because she gives an old school Tonka Mighty Dump truck to all her grandsons. And most of all, I forgive the third-grade embarrassment because she's my mom and I love her.

06 May 2005

Alias has LOST it.

Puns are never funny. But sometimes--and only sometimes--they are accurate. It's just something we have to live with. (Tangent alert--why say "no pun intended"? Of course the pun was intended. And if it wasn't, why call attention to it now? I have a friend who decided to follow just about every sentence with "no pun intended" and a wink. Pure comedy. Try it. Watch people dig for the pun.) On to the topic.

I've seen every episode of Alias. Every single one. I watched the pilot in the Fall of 2001--one of the flashiest, catchiest, sexiest pilots in the history of pixelated viewing. So…I think I can speak with a li'l bit of cred when I say that I'm considering giving up Sydney Bristow. For good. Cold turkey. Will it hurt? Some. But not nearly as much as it should.

For two full seasons, Alias was the best show on television. At least on my television. 24 was hot and Jack Bauer has no equal, but Sydney Bristow was un-freaking-touchable. Some elements of the show were unfathomable--primarily the idea that this show came from they guy behind Felicity. But the leaps of logic were forgivable. Shocking red wigs and frantic costume changes kept my attention occupied. More than anything, however, the drama was not dramatic. Jennifer Garner somehow kept Syd grounded in everyday. And, for two seasons, I couldn't stop watching this grad student turned spy turned double agent turned confused daughter.

I applauded every twist. I sucked up every Rimbaldi mindbender. I thought my left arm fell off when Lena Olin appeared as Syd's mother at the end of season 1 and pumped a bullet into Syd's shoulder. And…I fell in love. Not with Jennifer Garner (or Syd, although it was tempting), but I fell in love with a story. A fragile, twenty-something utterly confused by her surroundings and struggling to establish some sort of familial identity. Someone my age unable to keep up with it all.

And nothing could match the Sydney's realization at the end of season 2--a two-year period had been wiped from her mind. Everything had changed. Vaughn was married to a woman my friends and I would soon refer to as "Horseface" and Syd was more alone than she had ever been. I hesitate to draw any sweeping parallels, but Syd's situation spoke to a broader condition. Modernist writers struggled to express the senseless devastation of World War I and the growing difficulty of real, personal communication. Not that JJ Abrams is T.S. Eliot, but Syd's growing disorientation seems to express the disillusionment and confusion of Gen X, especially in a global community teeming with enemies and no clear-cut bad guys.

So where did it go wrong? Why would I discard a show I love? I don't know for sure. In fact, writing about it now makes me want to hold on and grab every remaining thread of intensity. But my desire is waning. My pulse fails to quicken in the critical moments. The bottom line: This show isn't about Sydney anymore. Sure, she plays a prominent role and Jennifer Garner has a contract extension with ABC through 2008, but Alias is too concerned with fringe characters and subplots to hand the keys back to the woman behind the wheel. Nadia? Yeah, right--a girl like that would definitely go out with chubby slob Weiss. Vaughn searching for his father? Who cares (even if it did involve a clever twist at the end of the interminable mini-arc). Proto-Sloane? Really? A look-alike? Of Sloane? Yikes.

When I saw the first episode of LOST, I thought this would happen. LOST is a new challenge for Abrams and his crew. A fresh story with infinite possibilities. And while LOST is still in season 1 honeymoon bliss, it's everything I want Alias to be. It's creepy and beautiful and sad and uplifting. The characters are wonderful and the acting is first-rate. And it succeeds where Alias fails. While Alias continues to wander and drift to secondary characters, LOST is beginning to hone its scope. Each episode features the backstory of one character. Some have featured lesser characters like Hurley and Charlie, but the most powerful and consistent episodes have focuse on Jack, Sawyer, Locke, and Kate--the very souls of LOST. Hopefully, JJ Abrams won't forget about them.

Is there hope? I hope so. I miss Sydney. Most of all, I miss the way I felt about her. I miss Will Tippin. I miss thinking Vaughn was el hombre furioso. I miss wishing Jack would give his daughter a hug. I miss hoping Sloane would die a slow and painful death. I miss season 1. I miss season 2. I miss parts of season 3. And, like a frightened twentysomething with a wife, a 2-year-old, a partially-rewarding career, and no clue how I'm going to survive the next 40 years…I'm just as confused as ever.

05 May 2005

Temporary means permanent for now.

First things first: Blogs are finished. Over. Is there anything more uncool than starting a blog? And on 05-05-05? It's doubtful. Well…what's done is done and things can only get better from here. Let's not pretend anything great will come of this. Two things will happen--I'll write and my handsome family will pretend to read (if only to avoid my wrath at some future birthday party).

I have no further ambitions. I'm not Seth Godin. I'm not John Darnielle. I'm not BatGirl. And I'm certainly not the inimitable Paul Shirley. I'm just a corporate hack somehow stranded in the borderlands of Salt Lake City. Two steps to the right and I'm lost in the UC (that's Utah County…infinitely more distressing than the sunshine wonderland of Seth Coen's dreams).

So without any ground rules and only a handful of wit, let's spin this record.