Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bride and Prejudice

It's always interesting when something occurs that soundly answers a question you hadn't even thought to ask.

For example: I never specifically came right out and said to myself or anyone else, "Gee, I wonder what could make me want to punch Patrick Dempsey in the face even more than I already do?"

And yet -- Made of Honor.

As much as it pains me to bring up a certain unattractive HBO star and once again risk the wrath of her fawning acolytes, I have to, merely for the sake of a point of reference: Patrick Dempsey is basically the male version of Sarah Jessica Parker*. Both began their careers as homely, geeky teenagers (he in mindless dreck like Can't Buy Me Love, she on TV's Square Pegs); both saw a career resurgence and hit their professional highs while pushing middle-age; both star in shows that have been elevated to near-religion status by a nationwide army of really stupid women (he's on Grey's Anatomy, she was on Sex and the City); both are "hot" only in the most perfunctory sense -- when viewed through eyes that have never ventured beyond the local grocery store and filtered through a complete lack of imagination -- and yet both have been surreally canonized as sex symbols and fashion plates by a slavish, celeb-obsessed media. There's just nothing at all special about either of them, and yet the kind of women who will do anything Oprah commands want nothing more than to sleep with one and be the other.

These Cosmo-queens and Pretend-Prada-princesses are, needless to say, the same women who can be blamed for the seemingly endless glut of big-budget Fairytale Wedding-themed romantic comedies -- otherwise known as porn for needy girls.

And what's the latest insipid Hollywood offering in this creatively exhausted genre?

Why, Made of Honor, of course.

It only makes sense that Patrick Dempsey would eventually be enlisted to carry one these tedious eye-rollers, playing the kind of imaginary, über-sensitive anti-Tyler Durden character that only a female screenwriter could create; he's the perfect Stepford Leading Man and he's already got mealy TV-himbo cred to spare thanks to the whole Dr. McDreamy thing (a moniker which tells you, all on its own, just who his core audience is -- I mean really, who but a slightly doughy Ambush Makeover candidate would call somebody "McDreamy?"). Dempsey taking the lightweight reins of a movie that sounds startlingly like a recycled J-Lo vehicle is about as obvious as the fact that the same movie will soon be playing on TBS every night of every weekend.

There's no point debating why it is that "chick flicks" generally fall into one of two categories -- they're melodramatic, celluloid psychotherapy aimed at dredging up dormant mother/daughter issues, or Prince Charming fantasies designed to fuck women into an orgasmic frenzy with the gargantuan penis of unrealistic expectations. Either way, the endgame is generally the same for the men and smart women forced to suffer someone who's adopted the belief system of these movies as gospel: indulge her when possible, pity her behind her back and hope that a new and better girlfriend/friend comes along at some point to replace her and her neuroses forever (thereby confirming her latent suspicions that she's "not good enough"). If you're a man, you don't want to be anywhere near someone who plans to drop ten bucks on Made of Honor. In fact, a love of Patrick Dempsey and the desire to see this movie might function as a sort of litmus test to weed out the women you should run screaming from -- the ones whose hopes and dreams involve crap you'll never care about. As for the XX-chromo opposites of the rom-com crowd -- the sharp, funny, worldly women who represent the brass ring within the American gene pool -- you'll probably need to avoid the Dempsey fans as well, since I can't see a smart girl wanting to listen to a man-crazy basket case whining to her on the phone at 3am because her one-night-stand hasn't called back or her boyfriend won't ask her to marry him.

Bottom Line -- see Iron Man this weekend.

It's got a more believable storyline than Made of Honor, and a much better leading man.

(*This is contingent on Sarah Jessica Parker not, in fact, being the male version of Sarah Jessica Parker.)

Listening Post

Somewhere between Dirty Vegas and Faithless lies a band called Syntax.

They lasted just a couple of years and recorded only one album -- Meccano Mind, back in 2003 -- but it was a pretty memorable effort.

Here's a DIY video for a song I never seem to get tired of listening to: Pride.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The First Rule of Mamet Is, You Do Not Talk About Mamet

Alright, did somebody spike my Crystal Lite with Felix the Cat acid?

Is Redbelt really a martial arts movie starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tim Allen -- and directed by David Fucking Mamet?

Dear God.

Coming Soon: Takashi Miike's remake of Sense & Sensibility, starring Sonny Chiba and William H. Macy

Instinct vs. Extinct

Last week, I wrote a piece which asked why being staunchly liberal seems to go hand-in-hand with being overly-analytical and thoroughly humorless (Why So Serious?/4.25.08). To help prove my point, I mentioned the blogging battle that went on recently between Rolling Stone columnist Matt Taibbi and Methuselan feminist icon Erica Jong.

I made no bones about whom I was siding with in their hilarious little flamewar -- and all you have to do is read the latest material from each to get a clear indication of why I think one is exactly the kind of voice the American left needs right now and the other is a tired and ridiculous cliché who should just go ahead and die already.

(Rolling Stone: "Jesus Made Me Puke" by Matt Taibbi)

(The Huffington Post: "Natural Nudists Unite!" by Erica Jong)

Listening Post

Yesterday it was Hollywood, today it's New York City.

These guys made a minor splash here in the states but went on to blow-up big in Europe. Either way, they're all kinds of cool.

Fun Lovin' Criminals -- The King of New York.

Heaven's Cates

This past weekend, my wife and I were sitting on our couch, scanning the various cable channels, when we came across Fast Times at Ridgemont High on HBO. For the first time in probably about a decade and a half, I watched -- from start to finish -- the unedited version of a movie that remains one of the defining moments of my early teen years. Today, I'm reposting this piece from almost exactly a year ago to help you understand why.

Although not as often associated with the supernatural these days as, say, San Francisco or New Orleans, New York City still manages to project its fair share of mythological allure -- it being, after all, America's one and only true "gotham," as well as the home of the Ghostbusters. Yet in spite of a past steeped in creepy mystery and a present littered with the East Village-Stygian, Anne Rice-a-Looney goofballs who find themselves drawn to such nonsense, my adopted home has never presented me with a paranormal experience worthy of note -- unless of course you count the tendency of my credit card to inexplicably disappear at some point every Saturday night.

No matter how much magic this city may hold, it's just never shown me any of "that old, black" variety.

That is until this past weekend.

Contrary to what you may have been led to believe by the aforementioned Ghostbusters, the true superconductive antenna for psychokinetic activity in New York City isn't a foreboding art deco-style apartment building on Central Park West -- even though it was directly in front of one such building that Yoko Ono incomprehensibly dodged five bullets taken by John Lennon; it is in fact a small and rather unassuming boutique, bas-relief etched into the face of one of the many tony, monolithic pre-wars along the Upper East Side. Inside this quaint little shop, the laws of time and space are nothing more than mercurial afterthoughts, infallible clairvoyance is commonplace, and grown men can be reduced to desperate, hyperventilative sobs in the face of the kind of religious experience that makes Saul's road-to-Damascus conversion look like a dizzy spell.

The shop is called Blue Tree.

It is owned and operated by Phoebe Cates.

As in that Phoebe Cates.

As in THAT Phoebe Cates.

For those of you who, A) aren't heterosexual males, and B) didn't come of age -- and given the subject matter, you'll forgive the pun -- in the early 1980s, the overwhelming magnitude of what I've just implied will no doubt escape you; the rest of you -- the straight men my age -- understand precisely of what I'm speaking and, as such, I'll give you the few moments necessary to properly collect yourselves.

A lot's been made over the years of the monumental impact that Phoebe Cates's seminal scene -- once again, you'll pardon the pun -- in 1982's Fast Times at Ridgemont High had on an entire generation of men. I have nothing to add to the discussion, simply because I can't; the singular import of that thirty seconds of film -- its initial and continued effect -- cannot be overstated. I still look upon the act of Phoebe, as sex kitten Linda Barrett, unclasping her red bikini top in slow-motion to the hypnotic purr of the Cars' Moving in Stereo with more reverence than my first real sexual experience; they each lasted about the same amount of time, but the girl who unwittingly took part in the former was Phoebe Cates -- whereas the latter involved a slightly overweight fifteen-year-old who would, a month later, surprise me by running out of her house, suitcase in hand, as I pulled into her driveway -- then spend the next hour begging me to help her run away while her heavy metal brother threatened to destroy my car with an aluminum baseball bat.

Phoebe offered no such threat of bodily harm or imminent arrest though; she was just the perfect girl exposing for me and the rest of my generation her perfect, perfect body. The fact that the overactive imagination of Judge Reinhold's character in Fast Times was the very reason for Phoebe's nudity in the first place created what to this day remains one of the greatest meta-reality moments in film history -- with poor, put-upon, Pirate Brad both standing-in for every male member of the audience at the time and creating the very masturbatory fantasy we'd all take with us to the grave.

To this day, I still fantasize about Phoebe Cates, and that one glorious scene. Like almost every single straight man my age, I long to watch her rise up out of the pool and say the words, "Hi (insert your name here), you know how cute I always thought you were."

I want her to stride toward me in the slow, fluid motion that resembles nothing less than one long, orgasmic sigh -- pull open her bikini top -- and kiss me passionately.

I've wanted this for twenty-five years.

And you know what? Phoebe Cates knows this.

My wife and I had just spent the afternoon taking a leisurely stroll through Central Park -- literally, walking from the zoo at 60th street, all the way up to 91st and 5th Avenue -- when we stumbled upon Phoebe's little boutique. We were both tangentially aware of the shop, having read in one magazine or another a profile which mentioned Blue Tree and its noteworthy proprietor, and so, finally being in the neighborhood, we decided to stop in.

Of course I'm making this decision sound like a much more nonchalant affair than it actually was. The reality is that my heart was in my throat before my hand even touched the door; by the time the thing actually opened and I felt the rush of cool air from inside, I had devolved into a thirteen-year-old again; and when I glanced across the store and saw her -- well, you could've cleaned me off the floor with a bucket and a mop. As I stepped inside and heard the door whisper shut behind me, I suddenly felt as if I'd just downed three shots of Absinthe. Possessing both a preternatural forethought and an unparalleled concern for my well-being, my wife actually turned to me as I floated down the steps into the store, gave me an amused smile, and asked, "You gonna be okay?" I'm pretty sure that I attempted to answer but nothing translatable came out -- the words I'd put together in my head escaping my mouth in the form of two or three feeble, high-pitched squeaks.

As Phoebe walked out from behind the register stand and I finally saw her -- head to toe -- I almost collapsed. She looked, she looks, as if she hasn't aged a day since turning twenty-five. She's as beautiful and youthful now as she was in 1982 -- a fact which is more than a little spooky. She's gorgeous, she's thin -- she remains perfect.

Time indeed seemed to slow as she moved toward me, the music coming from the shop's overhead speakers not the Cars, but something even more narcotic: Fleetwood Mac's Gold Dust Woman. She wore a tight black sweater and matching black pants rather than the red bikini I'd dreamed of most of my life. Still, she flashed that flawless smile as she squeezed past me, en route to help a customer who'd gotten her attention -- and when we looked directly into each other's eyes, that's when it hit me.

I'm the naked one.

There are very few times in life that a person can literally read another's thoughts -- that someone can be reduced to the proverbial open book. In that moment, not only did I realize that Phoebe knew exactly what was going through my head, I understood that she was capable of pulling this same trick day after day, hour after hour -- with almost every single man she meets. She knows what they're all thinking -- every one of them, without fail. She knows they're all exactly like me, and in a twist worthy of a Hollywood ending, the guys who once ogled her nakedness are now the ones exposed.

The realization was enough to make me look away quickly -- feeling no small amount of embarrassment -- before finally turning back to face her again, smiling and nodding at the exquisite irony of it all.

Phoebe Cates read my mind.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Crystal Method to His Madness

When I learned that Richard Quest had been busted with meth in his pocket, my first reaction was to chuckle a little and shake my head.

"Well, that explains a lot," I said to my wife.

Just about anyone who's seen the manic, occasionally unnerving on-air antics of CNN's resident eccentric Brit has probably -- at one time or another -- asked him or herself just what the hell Quest is on. The fact that, as it turns out, the answer is crank is as shocking as it is, well, not very shocking at all. During my years at CNN, particularly the time I spent as a senior producer in Atlanta, I admit that I rarely passed up an opportunity to put Quest on television; no matter where he was or what he was covering, his humor and brash unpredictability brought a welcome shot of pure adrenaline to the typically staid CNN proceedings. I looked forward to his stories, never doubting that they would provide the most memorable moments in any broadcast, and considered the man himself to be something of a rock star -- a true "personality" in a place that was, for the most part, sorely lacking any. His pieces didn't always carry the kind of weight that would make him a first or even second block hit, but there was no denying his special brand of insane gravitas.

Quest has always been one-of-a-kind, and despite the current scandal surrounding him, he's someone CNN is wise not to be summarily throwing to the wolves. But the fact that he does still have a job at the network, after what could very well be the most embarrassing arrest in recent memory, is a bit of a head-scratcher to someone whom CNN unceremoniously fired almost three months ago for the apparently unpardonable sin of personal blogging (Say What You Will/2.18.08). I admit, it just doesn't seem fair: Quest breaks the law and becomes a walking punchline and CNN issues an official press release wishing him a speedy recovery during his obligatory stint in rehab; I write on my own time, never once identifying myself as a network employee, and I'm sent packing with no warning and no severance -- despite my supervisors' knowledge that my wife and I are expecting our first child in August. Quest likely violated a morality clause in his contract and not only drew negative publicity to CNN, but may have damaged his future credibility beyond repair (as much as I'd like to believe otherwise, I'm not sure anyone will be able to look at him for quite some time without wondering what's wrapped around his crotch or stuffed into his boot), while I failed to note a single and comically vague line in the employee handbook which supposedly forbade me to write anything at anytime without first having it approved by CNN standards and practices.

CNN shouldn't fire Richard Quest, but if his indiscretion doesn't meet the threshold for termination then my offense didn't even come close.

For the record, I'm well aware of the -- pardon the pun -- bind that CNN finds itself in with respect to Quest: By predictably checking into rehab, he's making the claim that he has a serious drug problem, rather than simply being a recreational user (believe it or not, those still exist), and therefore wasn't responsible for his actions on the night of his arrest; the network can't legally abandon him. Meanwhile, whatever sexual kinks Quest may indulge in are his business and his alone; once again, from both a lawsuit-avoidance and a public relations standpoint, CNN can't be seen to cast a disapproving eye on his lifestyle. But it's damn interesting that a news network wouldn't be willing to risk offending the gay community -- and before anyone grabs the phone and begins dialing GLAAD, of course I'm not implying that gay-equals-deviant -- yet has no problem hanging both proponents of new media and the first amendment itself out to dry.

What this likely all comes down to, however, is something that was mentioned to me several times during the hoopla over my untimely dismissal: Many of those who were kind enough to support me wanted to know why CNN continued to pay opinionated blowhards like Lou Dobbs and Nancy Grace, yet found a writer with a personal opinion -- someone working completely outside the confines of the office -- to be unworthy of a place at the network. Needless to say, the reason was that the former -- the big-budget talent -- was using its collective voice to make money for CNN and Time Warner, while the latter wasn't. (He wasn't making money period.) It always comes down to ratings and revenue, and there's a reason that on-air talent is paid more than those behind the scenes: It brings in the dollars. Viewers will never tune in to watch the work of a smart producer or manager, but they'll damn sure be in front of their TVs if they like watching Lou Dobbs complain about Mexicans.

It's ironic that Richard Quest's notoriety as a familiar face on CNN is not only what made his arrest such a big deal, it's what will wind up saving his job in the aftermath of it. I love to watch him too, but that doesn't make the double-standard right -- the one that saves his job and not that of someone working behind the scenes.

Next time, I'm checking into rehab -- or if I've already been there, can I just grandfather that in?


Some people think that life in California is easy -- but it's really hard work.

We've got board meetings.

Lots of board meetings!

We're always playing catch up.

We're really just a bunch of pencil pushers.

We work with some real characters.

We're always working weekends.

We burn the midnight oil.

Hey, it's a dirty job...

...But somebody's gotta do it.

So, if this looks like your kind of work, we've got just one question for you:


Listening Post

While digging through a box filled with old clothes over the weekend, I came across a Public Enemy t-shirt, from the Fear of a Black planet tour -- the one during which I was lucky enough to interview Chuck D and a pre-VH1-embarrassment Flavor Flav.

Putting it on took me back to a time when hip-hop mattered.

Here's the unstoppable PE, with Ice Cube and Big Daddy Kane -- Burn Hollywood Burn.

Achy Breaky Tart (Redux)

Oh, and it just keeps getting better and better.

(The Huffington Post: Miley Cyrus Poses Topless for Vanity Fair)

That sound you hear is parents screaming, pre-teen girls crying and pre-teen boys having their very first orgasms.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Why So Serious?

It might be time to once again make an important point crystal clear: I'm neither conservative nor liberal. My attitude is that if each side of the aisle finds good reason to dislike the things I say, my opinions, my overall tone, etc., then I'm doing something right.

That said, I have a question for those who count themselves among America's "staunchly liberal" contingent; it involves something I've noticed as I scan the content on the Huffington Post -- the reaction to my pieces as well as the contributions of others.

Why the hell do liberals tend to take everything so goddamned seriously?

I bring this up because there's a tidal wave of righteous indignation gaining momentum across the blogosphere at the moment in response to an ill-advised but relatively harmless comment made by, of all people, Keith Olbermann. While discussing the future of Hillary Clinton's campaign with Newsweek columnist and sycophantic turd Howard Fineman, Olbermann responded to the notion that someone might have to step in to settle the Democratic primary by saying, "Right -- somebody who can take her into a room and only he comes out." This was admittedly a really stupid thing to say and, whether forced to or not, Olbermann quickly apologized to those who might have felt that he recommended physically beating the hell out of Clinton. "It is a metaphor. The generic 'he' gender could imply something untoward. It should've been 'only the other comes out -- from a political point of view,'" he said in an official statement.

Only an idiot would fail to notice an undercurrent of sexism among MSNBC's male anchors: Chris Matthews, David Shuster and former MS host Don Imus have all made comments about women that they then had to retract. But likewise, does anyone with a brain really believe that Keith Olbermann was, in fact, suggesting that a man physically harm Hillary Clinton?

Like Shuster's infamous "pimping-out Chelsea" line before it, Olbermann's remark is nothing more than an offhand shot taken by a guy who's essentially talking to hear himself talk. And while it may reveal something about Olbermann's true attitude toward women, once again, I doubt very seriously that he was taking out a hit on Hillary.

And yet, judging by the response from some on the left, you'd think that was exactly what he'd done.

Keep in mind, this is Keith Olbermann we're talking about -- someone who's been a hero to liberal America by giving it the kind of public voice it hasn't had in years. As silly as I thought it was to pitch a fit over John Gibson's comments about Heath Ledger's death, or what O'Reilly and that buffoon Limbaugh have to say about anything at all, at least the outrage was aimed in the, pardon the pun, right direction. These people are the left's sworn enemies; it makes sense to try to play "gotcha" with them, no matter how ineffectual such outrage may be. But Olbermann is ostensibly one of their own; turning on him not only shoots your own cause in the foot, it actually goes a long way in proving why the Democrats can't seem to win an election to save their lives: Republicans are organized -- they get behind a set of people and a set of talking points, no matter how ridiculous, and they stay there. To the left, this kind of unwavering True Belief is stubborn and robotic and proves that your average red-stater can't think for himself. But guess what? It wins elections.

In the past couple of weeks alone, I've been castigated by commenters on HuffPost for titling a column about Gloria Allred "Burn the Witch" ("What's wrong with you? How can you say something like that?"); I've been accused of insulting children ("Kids should rule the world. Imagine a world where children could vote: 'Do you think your mommmy and daddy should be sent to Iraq? Yes or No?'"); and, my personal favorite, I've been raked over the coals for my insensitivity toward lunatic cults ("Saying that someone 'drank the Kool-aid' is cruel to those who died at Jonestown."). And I'm not out there by myself when it comes to facing the wrath of the supposedly free-thinking perpetually aggrieved: Earlier this month, Rolling Stone columnist Matt Taibbi got into a blogging row with aging sex writer and pompous liberal cliché Erica Jong after he wrote a piece which referred to Hillary Clinton as "flabby." Jong didn't just go after Taibbi -- because that would be positively Philistine for someone as erudite and evolved as she is; No, Jong analyzed Taibbi's crack to death before finally coming to the conclusion that -- and I swear, she was serious about this -- insulting Hillary's appearance was a form of Freudian displacement designed to help Taibbi come to terms with the fact that he wants to have sex with his mother. In his own defense, Taibbi responded by just cutting to the chase and calling Jong a worthless hack -- which not only had the benefit of being true, it was infinitely more amusing to read.

Once again, Matt Taibbi is about as liberal as they come -- and yet those who consider themselves, I suppose, the humorless liberal "elite" (and I don't use that term the way the right often does) see no harm in eating their own. I truly believe that, as with Jong, it stems from the constant need to overcomplicate and overanalyze issues as a means of showing off one's superior intellect, and the inability to just go from point-A to point-B in a straight fucking line.

It would actually be funny if it weren't so sad -- and so antithetical to what the left hopes to accomplish, particularly in an election year. I hate the far right wingnuts like poison, but for the most part they can take a fucking joke and don't convene a press conference when somebody offends them, which is one of the reasons they've had such a powerful voice in this country for the last several years.

Jesus people, lighten up -- or you'll die trying (and by that, I don't mean that I'm advocating violence against you).

Crime and No Punishment?

I grew up in Miami during the 80s, which means that I lived through three major race riots before I was 20-years-old. All were the result of police either killing black men or being acquitted of killing black men. The largest of the three, the 1980 Liberty City riot, left 18 people dead -- ironically, yet not surprisingly, 8 whites and 10 blacks. The chaos it produced in the streets was almost impossible to describe: buildings were burned; businesses were looted; snipers fired at cars driving along I-95; the National Guard was called in; the situation was so frightening at one point that according to Miami Herald reporter Edna Buchanan, the staff of the paper, holed up in their downtown offices, raided the cafeteria and poured cooking oil down the building's loading ramp to prevent rioters from getting to the Herald's rear entrance.

Liberty City remained the most notable race riot in modern history, until April of 1992 -- when Los Angeles exploded.

By now, everyone knows the story: Four white L.A. cops were captured on video beating Rodney King, yet were acquitted by a jury made up of whites, a Latino and an Asian. For six days following the verdict, Los Angeles burned. When it was all over, 53 people were dead.

I was 22-years-old and had been in TV news only a couple of months when it happened. It would be another few years before I moved to Los Angeles, but to watch it go up in flames -- this place which even at the time represented a kind of personal manifest destiny for me -- was heartbreaking, particularly after having lived through Miami's calamitous recent past. I wasn't sure what to make of the verdict; it seemed almost incomprehensible to most who watched the videotape of the King beating that those wielding the batons and Taser could be found not guilty. I was among that group; I remember reacting with outrage at what seemed to be an unmitigated injustice. Although not willing to give anyone a pass for torching half a city and savagely attacking the innocent, I could understand the anger felt by many of those who took to the streets. Under then-Police Chief Daryl Gates, the LAPD had metastasized into a cold, brutish machine -- one which seemed to function more as the armed enforcers of a dictatorial state than a community police force whose job it was to protect and serve. The force as a whole inspired more fear than respect, and as far as anyone could tell, Gates was just fine with that. In the wake of the verdict, I had quite a few lengthy conversations about this subject with my father, who happened to be a veteran of the Miami-Dade Police Department.

My father's take on the acquittal in Los Angeles was unconscionable to me at the time, though not surprising given his background: He felt that despite the inflammatory nature of the videotape evidence, it didn't really prove a thing. As an ex-cop, he was of course approaching it from the standpoint that no one can know exactly what it's like to be a police officer dealing with an explosive, potentially life-threatening situation. Yes, the tape seemed to show a submissive and subdued Rodney King being viciously clubbed for no justifiable reason, but there was more to what was happening than the snapshot of the overall incident that had been captured on video. (In fact, there was even more footage on the tape itself, which the public never saw but the jury did.) Knowing what most cops have to endure on a daily basis and what can go through the mind of even the best-trained officer in a moment of extreme stress, my father was willing to give the King cops the benefit of the doubt and demand more information before rendering judgment.

Looking back on it, he was right -- not because he wanted to give the police a pass, but because he wanted to see and hear all the facts in the case before making a decision as to guilt or innocence.

Needless to say, I'm thinking quite a bit about this right now -- after the acquittal in the shooting of Sean Bell.

I won't rehash the case too deeply; you likely know the details: Bell was shot outside a strip club in Queens, New York on November 25th of 2006; plainclothes cops fired 50 rounds at his car, killing him and wounding his two passengers. At the time, even Mayor Mike Bloomberg said it sounded like excessive force was used -- but today, a judge has ruled otherwise. To those in the black community, it feels like another stunning betrayal -- a case of killers in blue blithely executing a black man then escaping punishment, proving once again that police are above the very laws they purport to uphold. Although there's calm in the streets at the moment, the usual instigators -- and by that, I mean Al Sharpton -- will most certainly soon be forcing their indignant faces in front of any camera they can find, decrying the failure of the system and the insignificance of a black life in the eyes of the law. To some extent, they'll be correct, regardless of the true, self-serving agendas behind their personal proclamations -- but I can't help thinking that, as with Rodney King, we don't know all the facts in the case other than the most incendiary of them: that 50 bullets were fired at Bell. Admittedly, that alone is enough to make me seriously question the validity of the shoot, but it's not enough to convict on its own. More evidence is needed, and I would have to hope that, before issuing his verdict, the judge saw and considered the facts that the public either wasn't aware of or refused to take into account.

Were the cops who gunned down Sean Bell truly guilty of exercising unnecessarily brutal force? Are police in general expected to meet only a paltry standard when it comes to taking deadly action?

It may seem so at this point, after all we've seen.

But that doesn't necessarily make it so.

Suck It, Monkeys!*

I've said this before, but it bears repeating: The irony here is that Florida manages to disprove both the Theory of Evolution and Intelligent Design at the same time.

(Gainesville Sun: Florida Senate Passes Bill Challenging Evolution)

(*A little shout-out to anyone who saw last night's episode of 30 Rock.)

Listening Post: Devil's Horns Edition

It's Friday and, as Pat Boone once infamously said, I'm in a metal mood -- so let's bust out a couple of truly unexpected pleasures.

First up, I'll make a confession: I'm a die-hard Motley Crue fan. Say what you will about them, the Crue pretty much are rock 'n roll. They've been through it all: Spectacular fucking albums (Dr. Feelgood), crap albums (Theater of Pain), debaucherous excess, alcoholism, drug overdoses, celebrity wives, break-ups, lineup changes and side projects -- they've even managed to survive Vince Neil's seemingly unstoppable trek down the road to has-been oblivion as part of VH-1's insipid "Celebreality."

Motley Crue's spent almost three decades enduring all of this and more, and yet they're still a damn good band. In fact, all that hard living has given them the kind of grizzled look and feel that they were always going for as kids, but what now -- in middle-age -- seems unforced and realistically bad-ass.

Their new single sounds, at times, quite a bit like Shout at the Devil. And even though it treads a lot of familiar territory (both for the Crue and for metal in general), it's easily the best thing they've released in about 15 years.

Here's Saints of Los Angeles.

Next up, a decent band that probably wouldn't raise too many eyebrows were it not for their lead singer. For some reason, no one seems to know about these guys and just who the powerful voice is behind them. Suffice to say, as vanity projects go -- this one's an absolute shocker.

If you don't know who Wicked Wisdom are, watch the video -- and if you still haven't figured out who the woman at the mic is by the end, click the comment page to find out.

This is Bleed All Over Me.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Kids Incorporated

David Archuleta's going to win American Idol -- you may as well get that through your head right now.

It doesn't matter that he's a short, somewhat frumpy kid who always looks like he just got his ass kicked for his lunch money at recess, or that his willowy voice conveys all the passion and soul of Muzak, or that he actually admitted on national television -- without even a hint of irony -- that John Farnham is one of his favorite artists, or that Michael Jackson is already trying to figure out a way to get his smooth young body to Neverland. None of it makes any difference, because Archuleta has the one thing that matters -- tragically, the only thing that matters these days: The unwavering worship of every 13-year-old girl in America.

The 'tweens are legion, they are powerful, and they will see to it that David Archuleta is crowned boy king of the pop culture universe. In a couple of months, they'll have his face plastered everywhere you look -- and only the little girls themselves, and maybe NAMBLA, will have reason to rejoice over it.

But here's the thing: It doesn't have to be like this.

Never has there been a seeming eventuality -- in this case, a cultural zeitgeist -- that was easier to stave off.

All adults have to do, is take back the world from their kids.

Don't pretend that you don't know what I'm talking about, because it's become impossible to ignore: A generation of parents who spoil their children rotten -- hubristically buying into the notion that their specific spawn is somehow special and deserving of society's deference -- combined with the technology that gives every computer or text savvy kid a voice, whether he or she deserves one or not, has conspired to hijack a good portion of what we see and hear. It's a Wiki world, one in which a vocal majority can literally rewrite the rules and twist reality to suit its needs, and right now, the 'tweens are the most vocal -- and what they need, apparently, are crappy, overproduced, Disneyfied Stepford Teens to scream for and sing along to.

This is why Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers are all but inescapable right now -- and why David Archuleta is next.

Last night on American Idol, that palisade of democratic instant gratification, Carly Smithson got the hook, while utterly forgettable, high-all-the-time retard Jason Castro lived to annoy another day. The reason Smithson was sent packing, particularly as opposed to Castro, is obvious: she had nothing to offer the wild-eyed 'tween girl demographic. Without at least a portion of this fan base, no one on Idol stands a chance these days. Talent doesn't matter, nor does personality; all that really counts is the innate ability to give America's cell phone armed rugrats something to either fantasize about or aspire to.

I've always had an issue with parents who allow their children to take over their lives, turning them into frazzled, Nickelodeon-watching, Wiggles-vs.-Zach & Cody-debating, shadows of their former selves -- the kind of people who once listened to The Clash and now have no issue with mortgaging the home to buy Miley Cyrus tickets. It's one thing to let parenthood change you -- to rightly make your kids a priority; it's another thing to completely forfeit your identity and become nothing more than an extension of your child's tastes. In years past, this kind of sloughing off of the various predilections that make someone an adult didn't have the far-reaching effect that it does today; before the age of viral transmission, YouTubed kingmaking and iRule, prepubescents didn't really have the ability to inflict their will on the rest of us. But all that's changed now that text messaging and the internet have allowed for the creation of a hive mind -- and what's worse, one that's turned Generation-Y into one big conduit/amplifier for whatever's been cleverly marketed in its direction. It's no longer a kid grabbing Mommy's sleeve and screaming, "I want that!" It's a kid hooking into the Borg and joining with every other kid in the country, then voting and calling and posting and commenting and asserting power in every way possible until his or her request is no longer a request but a demand, and one that's been handily brought to fruition. In the chaos theory of popular culture, all it takes anymore is a few butterflies flapping their wings to start a tempest that becomes a juggernaut. The 'tweens decide what they want, the parents follow, the lapdog media that are always on the lookout for the Next Big Thing trumpet it, and before you know it, it's unavoidable -- on every TV and radio and in every magazine and department store across the nation.

The easiest way to change this would be to simply stop allowing them to have such a deafening voice. Believe it or not, adults are still in charge; they can say "no" once in awhile, or take away the cell phones attached to their children's ears, or pry their hands away from the computer keyboards. The bottom line is that what a bunch of little Veruca Salts want, particularly when it comes to entertainment, is what the rest of us are getting stuck with -- and I didn't grow older, endure bad relationships, a drug addiction and various harsh disappointments, and now pay an exorbitant rent and $4.15-a-gallon for gas so that I can have David Fucking Archuleta rammed down my throat by some lovestruck 12-year-old.

To twist a lyric from The Doors -- they've got the numbers, but we've got the guns.

Or in this case, the plugs.

Pull 'em.

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

A kind reader sent me this tidbit.

I don't even know what to say about it; I'm honestly speechless.

Please, please, please -- would somebody hit a homerun of irony and just shoot this fucker in the face?

(WDJB: Seller of Gun Used in Virginia Tech Shooting Goes to Campus to Promote Concealed Weapons)


(Blow Back/6.21.07)

(And All That Could Have Been/4.19.07)

Project Office Mayhem

Your assignment, as usual: Quietly put the following link up on every computer in your office, then crank all the speakers to full volume.

Mischief points: 150

If you work at the office of a Republican congressman from Alabama: 6,899

If you happen to be Shaft's secretary: -5,000

(Pick a Fro)

Gentlemen, Behold!

There's seriously nothing about this video that isn't awesome.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Post #1000

Reading is Fundamental

Just a reminder -- and for the record, I have to remind myself to post reminders like this: My full-length memoir, Dead Star Twilight, is available for purchase and download by clicking the link in the upper right hand corner of this page.

So far, the response to it has been spectacular and I've sold a hell of a lot more copies in two weeks than I ever expected to.

To those who've picked it up, I can't thank you enough.

To those who haven't yet -- are you waiting for me to add more sex and drugs or something? Because I'm not sure that's possible. (How's that for a tease?)

Read the excerpts here:

(Ship of Fools/2.22.08)

(Welcome to the Monkey House/6.4.07)

(The Ex Files/6.7.07)

(Imperfect Strangers/8.30.07)

(With Love and Resentment, Your Past/9.5.07)

(Listening Post: Memoir Edition/1.27.08)

Live Through This

Two years ago this week, I underwent surgery to have a tumor the size of a pinball removed from my brain.

The fact that I'm even able to type these words is nothing short of a miracle, to say nothing of the admittedly miniscule thought process necessary to pull them out of my ass in the first place.

You'll forgive me if I take this opporunity to republish the columns I wrote a year or so ago dealing with the time leading up to and immediately following my operation.

Outside my window right now, it's a beautiful day.

It's good to be alive.

Where Is My Mind? (Part 1) -- 10.12.06

Where Is My Mind? (Part 2) -- 12.26.06

Listening Post

Turn your speakers up to 11.

This is one of the fucking coolest songs ever.

Monster Magnet's Negasonic Teenage Warhead..

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Surrender, Integrity

"Theater is Life. Film is Art. Television is Furniture."

-- Unknown

I don't watch much CNN anymore, or TV news in general for that matter.

I figure since there's no longer a steady paycheck to provide the requisite level of incentive, there's really no need to subject myself to most of the horseshit the networks try to pass off as legitimate news these days. The average human digestive tract can handle only so many breathless reports on the latest missing blonde girl or bombastic warnings about the threat posed by plastic water bottles before it goes all Lovecraft and starts trying to force itself out of any orifice it can find. I'd like to believe that joining the ranks of those who play 24/7 watchdog to the news industry -- the ones attempting to quixotically stand against the tide of daily abuses -- will make some kind of difference, but I'm just not sure that's the case. As much as I want to feel otherwise, I don't think organizations like Media Matters really, well, matter. They're fighting the good fight and bringing the power of new media to bear against a previously unchecked leviathan, sure -- but there are times when I can't help but believe they're stoically trying to empty Lake Michigan with a spoon.

I realize that this kind of thinking stands in sharp contrast to some of the antagonistically insurgent, all-or-nothing statements I've made in the past. But when a discordian convergence of the magnitude that we've witnessed in the past few days occurs, it makes me just want to throw in the towel, take my Paxil and let the chemically-induced somnambulance wash over me like a warm bath.

It started last week, at the annual National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas. The event's keynote speaker was none other than actor, activist and slightly pompous ass Tim Robbins; he took the opportunity to verbally scold America's broadcasting community while simultaneously calling upon it to remember its responsibility to the public, reinvest itself in quality product and turn away from celeb-fellating, political ass-kissing, ratings-driven nonsense. Needless to say, Robbins received a warm reception and a staunch chorus of amusingly indignant "hear hears" from the crowd, which then dispersed to head back to the bar, then to the casino, then to the panel discussion entitled "Tits and TV: How To Make a Freezing Cold Air Conditioner Work for You," then to the Cheetah lounge.

Given the amount of lip service paid to Robbins's noble but perfunctory attempt at forcing change from within the industry, you'd figure on at least a minor grace period of self-reflection and soul-searching from America's broadcasters before completely disregarding any half-drunk vows made in Vegas to clean up their act.

You'd of course be wrong.

Sure, executives say they want to see integrity and honor restored to television and radio -- particularly when it comes to news. But here's the thing: Each person sincerely believes it's the other guy who's to blame. Finding a news or programming manager who'll say that he or she is even partially responsible for inundating the airwaves with crap is like trying to nail down Warren Jeffs on Father's Day.

These people are like addicts: They'll never admit they've got a problem.

Which is why, just one week after Robbins's verbal beat-down and the obligatory head-hanging and hand-wringing it produced, two of America's most powerful television networks are still doing what they do best -- and that's whatever the hell they have to do to get ratings, regardless of how shameful an abandonment of their responsibility to respectable broadcasting.

Last night, NBC's strangely successful game show Deal or No Deal was visited -- via a satellite image displayed on a huge, somewhat Orwellian monitor -- by George W. Bush. The president was on hand to lend his support to a contestant on the show -- a captain in the U.S. Army who pulled three tours of duty in Iraq and whom dingbat host Howie Mandel referred to as "the ultimate American." (As Mandel is Canadian, who knows whether he was being slightly facetious.) The surreal image of a giant George W. Bush head doing its self-deprecating "aw shucks" routine while wishing the best to a man who's spent the past few years dodging bullets and picking sand out of his ass in the name of a war Bush himself started was almost too much to take. All that was missing was a final Vaudevillian mug to the camera and a hearty "Sock it to me!" Despite Bush's on-air joke that he's "happy to be anywhere with good ratings," however, the numbers for last night's Deal or No Deal actually mirrored Bush's own anemic approval rating these days: The show matched its lowest Monday night numbers ever.

Incidentally, the president's support didn't do much good for the contestant either: The Iraq war vet went from banking around $140,000 to just a little over $25,000 before finally recouping some of his losses -- which makes this just the latest instance of a U.S. soldier being fucked by George Bush.

While there's technically nothing wrong with giving the president a forum on a harmless game show, NBC has spent so much time over the past several years pandering to this administration -- going along with it in the name of condescendingly appealing to the GOP's cheerleading base -- that you'd think by now the network would want to draw a very distinct line between itself and the unmitigated controversy that is the Bush White House. This would be particularly important given the criticism NBC News -- and to be fair, most other news organizations -- was forced to endure from those who say the network gave Bush and company a pass during the lead up to the Iraq war.

But, once again, network executives aren't interested in legitimacy in programming or news -- they're interested in being able to promote appointment television. In their eyes, that's what Bush's appearance on Deal or No Deal was (although the audience apparently knew better and believed otherwise).

Likewise, NBC saw nothing untoward about handing off an entire hour of Today to first lady Laura Bush and her twin daughters this morning. It may seem innocuous at first glance, but really, think about it: The wife and daughters of a low-rated and staggeringly divisive president, taking the reins of a network news show -- even one as toothless as Today.

It's a jaw-dropping violation of the fragile but sacrosanct Rubicon dividing the government from those whose job it is to police and maintain an adversarial relationship with it.

Murrow would've quit before allowing something like that to happen on his watch.

But if you think that's bad, it's a journalistic parking ticket compared to what CNN just did: It hired former White House Press Secretary and Fox News shill Tony Snow. I've had plenty to say recently about CNN's comically inept attempts at proving to the Fox Fans that it can be trusted with their viewership; the network has basically bent over backward and spun itself into one ethical pretzel after another trying to gain momentum against FNC's ratings juggernaut -- abandoning every principle it swore to uphold at its inception and napalming the very last vestiges of its journalistic credibility in the precious name of ad revenue. CNN has been as guilty as anyone of not holding the government accountable for its offenses over the past several years; although not the blatant mouthpiece for the White House that Fox has been, CNN in some ways abandoned its post in an even more egregious manner. No one with a brain ever expected Fox to tell the truth, not with Republican interests at stake; CNN had a responsibility to be the necessary beacon in the night -- to balance out the bullshit -- and instead, it drank the Kool-aid, hopped on the bus and did exactly what it was told to do by people like, irony of ironies, Tony Snow. In some ways, it only makes sense that the circle is now complete and the chicken hawk has come home to roost -- but it damn sure doesn't make it right.

CNN, in its relentless pursuit of Fox's audience, has just closed the White House's deal to buy the media outlet that should've been standing against it all along.

It really is enough to make even the staunchest defender of journalistic independence give up once and for all.

Malcolm X once famously told a crowd, "You've been hoodwinked; you've been had; you've been took; you've been led astray; you've been bamboozled."

Turns out, he was only half-right -- because when it comes to today's broadcast media, you're still being hoodwinked, took, led astray and bamboozled.

And I'm not sure there's a damn thing that can be done about it anymore.

Listening Post

Welcome to the underbelly.

West Indian Girl's Hollywood.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Achy Breaky Tart

Back in November, I wrote a column ripping the ever-loving hell out of Disney and its latest preternaturally sanitary, wholly owned family friendly entertainment product, Hannah Montana.

At the time, my detractors all seemed to rally around the same loud, droning argument -- and it's a familiar one: Hannah Montana and its pixyish star Miley Cyrus represent good, wholesome fun and provide a role model for America's young girls.

"At least she's not Britney Spears," defiant parents said, assuredly throwing down the gauntlet.


As I responded at the time -- wait.

While you're enjoying these photos of the new and (as far as I'm concerned) improved Miley Cyrus ascending nicely into teen slutdom and proving once again that you can take the girl out of the trailer park, but -- well, you know the rest -- you can console yourself with the knowledge that Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame is still around to provide something for your little girls to aspire to.

Oh wait -- she flashed her barely covered crotch at her fucking 18th birthday party a few days ago?

Well, take heart parents. In a few weeks, you'll have seemingly neutered American Idol winner David Archuleta to put up on a pedestal -- that is until he's caught playing catcher to older man Clay Aiken at some Broadway cast party.

(Montana Über Alles/11.20.07)

And Now, an Encore Performance from Chez's Evil Twin, Garth*

Call it "a case of the Mondays," or maybe the fact that Jayne is home sick today after slamming head-first into the start of her third trimester, or maybe just the result of accidentally catching an episode of Top Chef over the weekend. Whatever the reason, I felt like resurrecting this little diatribe from August of last year.

You know what'd be just awesome?

If somebody could figure out a way to simultaneously give every single fucking person on America's Next Top Model stage-four cancer.

Or maybe some kind of flesh-eating bacteria that's airborne and kills in a matter of minutes.

I swear to God, the guy who invents that shit and releases it in Tyra Banks's dressing room should get a Nobel Prize for Ass-Kicking Science.

I hate reality TV to begin with, but seriously -- is there anything more brutally, painfully, hideously, jaw-droppingly, stomach-turningly fucking insipid than America's Next Top Model? From a cultural standpoint, can anything shame this already-suffering country in a more grotesque and egregious manner than a TV show that features a bunch of really vapid girls encouraging the pathetic advances of a washed-up bikini and lingerie model desperate to be within 100 yards of anyone willing to kiss her ass and remind her that she used to be young and relevant, then enduring the scrutiny of a panel packed with every possible brand of gay stereotype -- from the preening fashion fag to the clownish drag queen to the arrogant metrosexual -- all so that they can get a crack at a career that'll require them to do nothing but look pretty and bored and walk in a straight fucking line?

The idiots on this show talk about modeling like it actually matters -- as if these simple, shallow kids are competing for a Rhodes Scholarship or a neurosurgical residency at Johns Hopkins.

Jesus fucking Christ.

Let me take this opportunity to once again thank our fighting men and women who are dying in various hell-holes around the globe to preserve "our way of life."

God bless America.

There's not a second during the times I've stumbled across this fucking abomination that I haven't thought to myself, "Holy shit! Every single person at that judge's table needs to die a horribly painful death -- and they need to do it right now if possible!"

Understand, I've got nothing against looking good -- and Lord knows, I do -- but there's almost nothing further removed from the "Actual Important Shit" Universe than the world of high fashion. If you think that anyone in the U.S. outside of a fucking Manhattan turtleneck-and-horn-rimmed-glasses art gallery opening or the South Beach White Party knows who the hell Anna Wintour is, really gives a shit about the new D&G collection or LOVED, LOVED, LOVED The Devil Wears Prada you seriously need to get out more.

There's a good-sized swath of this country that not only doesn't take wardrobe advice from homosexuals, it's likely to grab a baseball bat and a Bible if it even comes across one (and no, I'm not drawing Red-State/Blue-State lines you asshole).

Speaking of which -- is there a reason that intelligent, free-thinking gay Americans haven't rioted like fucking Stonewall over the gruesome, caricaturish portrayal of gays on shows like America's Next Top Model?

Or Blow Out?

Or Flipping Out?

Or Project Runway?

Or any fucking show on Bravo?

Reality TV has become the modern-day minstrel show of gay culture.

Homosexuals on these shows are cast almost exclusively as swishing, superficial drama-queens -- and are no doubt told to play up their "gayness" the same way that blacks were once coerced into doing jive-talk buffoonery if they wanted any kind of career in film or television. Neither portrayal constituted or constitutes progress; it's just the same-old same-old -- the perpetuation of a ridiculous stereotype, and one that confirms the worst fears, suspicions and prejudices of that segment of the population I mentioned a minute ago -- the folks with the baseball bats.

If you're gay and want to be on reality TV -- you'd better be willing to make Paul Lynde look like fucking Lee Marvin.

It's expected by now that reality TV in general, and Bravo in particular, will Breakfast Club everyone down to his or her most easily identifiable trait -- the reason of course being that there isn't a reality show producer alive who's interested in the lessons to be learned or even the fun to be had watching genuine social interaction; they're just out to make a fucking buck.

If you need proof of this -- and of the corporate agenda behind most of this programming -- subject yourself to an hour of Bravo's Top Chef (or actually, do yourself a favor and don't).

A recent episode was literally a harmonic convergence of corporate synergy.

Follow along now, kiddies:

Bravo is owned by NBC/Universal, which also owns the Spanish-language network Telemundo. Last week, the contestants still in the running -- meaning the ones who hadn't already been sent packing by a panel of judges which in-fucking-explicably includes fashion-model-turned-LAKSHMI+SCAR-Google-Search-curiosity Padma Lakshmi -- were asked to cook for the cast of the tele-novella Dame Chocolate, a show that which network is currently trying to push?

Telemundo, of course.

Also stepping up to the feeding trough for this particular episode: Jose Diaz Balart, co-anchor of Telemundo's morning show and possibly the most pompous and journalistically-challenged douchebag to ever sit in front of a teleprompter. (Remind me to tell you sometime about the inexcusable shit he pulled during the whole Elian fiasco.) But once again, NBC wants to promote Telemundo's crappy shows -- in an effort to topple its far more popular rival Univision -- so it does it under the guise of regular programming on another of its outlets.

Incidentally, the icing on the cake (pardon the baking pun) is all those lingering, almost pornographically photographed shots of gleaming GE applicances that show up over and over again in every episode of Top Chef -- product placement at its absolute goddamned finest, given that GE is part-owner of NBC, which, once again, owns Bravo.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Wow Garth, one of these days the cretinous sons-of-bitches with dollars-signs in their eyes who think of me as nothing more than a dupe for their marketing schemes are gonna just cut out the middle man altogether and begin scripting these shows around their worthless fucking products."

Oh, my poor deluded friend -- it's already happened.

A couple of months ago, the USA Network -- a cable entity that just might qualify as the Xaviera Hollander of media whores, as it's been passed around from media conglomerate to media conglomerate (it was once owned by both NBC Universal and Paramount Viacom; it's now exclusively owned by, you guessed it, NBC Universal) -- ran a summer-fluff mini-series called The Starter Wife. The show starred Debra Messing and was generally aimed at the lonely, middle-aged, Haagen-Dazs-hoovering, Oprah-worshipping crowd; it preached the message that, yes girlfriend, you are still beautiful and no, your thighs aren't the size of a T-rex's torso and therefore younger men are just waiting to fuck you and help you desperately prove to yourself that, in fact, the uncaring asshole who left you for his 23-year-old secretary had it all wrong.

You're a fucking MILF, baby. All you need to make your Cosmo dreams come true is, well, to look like Debra Messing would help -- but if you can't swing that, a giant fucking glop of "Pond's Fresh Start" exfoliating scrub or "Pond's Bare & Repair" eye-makeup remover should do the trick nicely. See, Pond's not only sponsored The Starter Wife, it was involved in the mini-series from its inception; company reps were on-hand during the scripting of the show and its various rewrites -- always ready and willing to point out to the hacks writing this thing the best places to slip in a shot of Debra Messing's character bukkakeing herself with "Pond's Pristine Clean" facial cleanser.

In other words, the entire show -- supposedly an artistic enterprise (yeah, I'm still willing to refer to most scripted TV that way) was actually nothing more than a six hour commercial. The fact that the fucking thing picked up so many Emmy nominations should tell you everything you need to know about the standards of the National Academy of Television Arts and Scientists (NATAS, or SATAN spelled backward) these days.

Pond's Cosmetics didn't just present The Starter Wife, they engineered it -- all to sell you something.

Which means, by the way, that it was still less fucking brain-dead than America's Next Top Model. At least somebody put some goddamned thought into it.



Has somebody come up with the cancer thing yet?

Are they dead yet?

Fucking come on already!

(*As always, the views and opinions of Garth do not necessarily reflect those of Chez, who knows nothing more about America's Next Top Model than what he's seen on Best Week Ever.)

Listening Post

I'll say one thing for Death Cab for Cutie: I'm not sure anyone saw this coming.

One album into their major label deal and they take a sharp left turn, releasing as the first single from their new record a dark, atmospheric, eight-and-a-half minute opus -- a track that bleeds nighttime.

It's an unusual sound for them.

It's also amazing.

I Will Possess Your Heart.

The Kids Are Alright

Because I'm still basking in the afterglow of seeing the Kids in the Hall live:

Daddy Drank.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sunday Sacrilege

I've gleefully pissed down the back of religion quite a bit this past week, so I see no reason to push the issue too much further at the moment.

That being said, (translation: ignore the last sentence) I was meandering the internet last night when I came across an interesting fact: Sithian enforcer to Emperor Papaltine, Vatican PR pit bull, and all around über-tool William Donohue -- president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights -- claims that "no one has insulted Catholics more than Bill Maher."

Donohue says that Maher "has consistently been listed in the Catholic League's Annual Report on Anti-Catholicism" for acts of bigotry, and has a habit of "slandering all priests as molesters and mocking the Eucharist."

I, for one, am wholeheartedly offended by all of this.

The reason of course is because, as far as I know, I'm not listed anywhere in the Catholic League's Annual Report on Anti-Catholicism. (I assume that if I were, I'd have gotten a plaque or something.)

True, Bill Maher has a much larger audience than little old me, but I feel like I've really done my part to openly insult the Catholic church, its cadre of pedophilic priests and its dangerously powerful "Holy Father." As for mocking the Eucharist, I was once thrown out of a theology class for calling communion wafers "Jesus Chips," so I think that qualifies me for at least a distant point on Donohue's radar.

That's why, my friends, I'm making an appeal to you for help. My goal for the next 12 months is to gain at least an honorable mention on the aforementioned Anti-Catholicism Report. I already make fun of the church and its laughably ridiculous and intransigent 11th century belief system whenever possible; I show the entire institution zero respect; what's more, I know the Bible inside and out -- having been raised Christian -- which puts me in a position to understand the organized insanity of which I speak.

With all due respect to Maher, I think I find the church even more immoral and worthy of ridicule than he does.

So come on Mr. Donohue -- mention my name the next time you're on O'Reilly; call me an intolerant threat to your poor little disorganized and put-upon congregation; insist that I'm going to hell.

You know, whatever.

I'll be awaiting your castigation.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Quote of the Week

"My dad says that reading the Bible is what poor people do in between scratching off lottery tickets, and if you think about it, it's pretty much the same thing."

-- Bruce McCulloch as "Gavin," The Kids in the Hall live at the Nokia Theater in New York City, 4/19/08

Listening Post: Bonus Weekend Edition

In keeping with yesterday's wonderfully shiny pop theme:

Ludo's nearly unbelievable single-shot video for Love Me Dead.

A Freak Called Quest

I found out about this yesterday, but in all fairness, I don't think anyone should give me crap about taking a little while to process something this fucking insane.

Having worked at CNN, I've always been well aware that batshit Brit Richard Quest is both psychotically manic and gayer than Carson Kressley blowing every male contestant on Project Runway, but I'm not sure anyone could've imagined him, well, flaming out like this.

Man, all I can say is that as much as I love watching Quest's antics on TV, if CNN (who of course isn't commenting) doesn't fire him for this shit after firing me for blogging, I may have to pull a Milton and set the building on fire.

Actually, I take that back -- they should keep him. CNN could use more openly crazy people on drugs.

(NY Post: Richard Quest Arrested with Drugs, Sex Toy)

And Now, a Message for the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, from Chez's Evil Twin, Garth

Fuck you.

Go home.

Friday, April 18, 2008

"I Saw It! It's Alive! It's Huge! ... IT'S INFALLIBLE!!!"

Property of U.S. Government, Multiple Sightings of Case Designate "Poperfield"

Recording Recovered from U.S. 917, Area Formerly Known as Upper East Side, Manhattan 4/18/08

Hello, my name is Chez Pazienza.

Approximately seven hours ago, something attacked the city.

If you're seeing this, then you know more than I do.

It's big, dressed in white robes and a silly hat, occasionally rides around in a plexiglass car -- and it seems to be impervious to conventional weaponry, rationality or 2,000 years worth of scientific discovery. As far as I can tell, it's distracted the entire New York City Police Department and forced the closing of streets across Manhattan. There are, well, I'm not sure how to say this, but there are these parasites that seem to be coming off of it -- these little things dressed in Catholic schoolgirl outfits that gather around it, screaming, then disperse and begin to attack anyone nearby with attempts at conversion to Christ and promises of salvation.

I've never seen anything like it.

I'm hiding in the basement of my apartment right now, hoping I can wait it out until the nightmare passes.

If I don't make it -- tell my wife I love her.

I'm so sorry I couldn't be there for you, baby.

Angry Letters from Iwo Jima

My father fought in Vietnam, so it pains me to have to say this, but -- Iwo Jima vets need to shut the hell up.

It seems that a group of the guys who took Iwo Jima are now slamming Time magazine for its new cover, which features a take on the legendary photo of the American flag being raised over the Japanese island. The story inside looks at the "War on Global Warming" (because, as you know, subtlety is king in today's media).

While choosing to screw with such an iconic image probably wasn't the wisest idea, the reaction of the vets, who insist that "whoever did this is going to hell, that's a mortal sin, to stick a tree in place of a flag on the Iwo Jima picture is just sacrilegious," and "that global warming is the biggest joke I've ever known, we'll stick a dadgum tree up somebody's rear," is equally fucking stupid (although my grandfather will be thrilled to know that he's not the only old man on Earth using the term "dadgum").

It's one thing to rightly defend a truly monumental event in U.S. history from the whims of a cleverly ironic board of magazine editors, but it's another thing entirely to then up the irony yourself by dismissing the importance of an issue you don't know a damn thing about, nor do you care to investigate. No offense, but it makes it seem as if you fought in the Pacific for nothing more than the right to ignore anything you don't understand. Behold, the Fox News Channel's prime demographic.

These guys were some of the strongest, most honorable people this country ever produced; even at their age, they should act like it.

Instead, they make ridiculous pronouncements like "God forbid (Time's editor) runs into a Marine that was an Iwo Jima survivor."

Yeah -- because it would really suck to have to push an 83-year-old man out of a golf cart.

Okay, so that was low.

Faith Some More

If you're lucky, you've missed the commercials for a new documentary called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

It hits theaters today and features Ben Stein playing a sort of mischievous, Michael Mooresque troublemaker out to take on the system that's trying hide the truth from you.

And what truth is that, exactly?

That so-called Intelligent Design belongs in the science classroom.

The fact that Ben Stein is being cast as an insurgent -- a man whose last act of rebellion involved choosing Yale over Princeton -- is hilarious in and of itself, although not surprising, considering the tone that the movie wants to hit.

But Expelled retreads a lot of all-too-familiar territory, and most of that territory is covered in knee-deep bullshit.

My latest column for the Huffington Post cuts through it.

Please -- you read.

(The Huffington Post: He Blinded Me Without Science)

Listening Post

Back when I was in my mid-20s, somebody wrote that there had to be something in the water in Chicago. That seemed the only possible explanation for the fact that bands and artists like Cheap Trick, Smashing Pumpkins, Urge Overkill, Veruca Salt and Liz Phair all came out of that city and the surrounding area.

Chicago is still cranking out damned impressive rock these days: No, I'm not a huge Fall Out Boy fan, but their success in furthering the Chicago pop sound is a little tough to argue with.

Which brings me to The Hush Sound.

If you watch the Fox network these days, and I can't say I recommend that you do, you'll hear a song called Medicine Man being used in the promos for the upcoming episodes of House.

That song is the second single off The Hush Sound's latest release, Goodbye Blues.

Here's the first: Honey.

And, as a special Friday bonus -- a band that The Hush Sound reminds me of quite a bit. One of my favorite groups of all time, Jellyfish, with The Ghost at Number One.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Project Office Mayhem

Your assignment, as usual: Quietly put the following link up on every computer in your office, then crank all the speakers to full volume.

Mischief points: 920

(Midget Movin')

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Star of David

Update: Yup, I did it. I bought David Cook's spectacular version of Always Be My Baby on iTunes this morning. Next week, by the way -- another entirely new experience: I'm gonna actually vote for this kid. You should too.

I never thought I'd see the day I did this, but here goes.

I've already copped to being inexplicably drawn to the pop culture bonfire that is American Idol, but last night, something happened that made me feel like I could finally come out of the darkness and confess my appreciation for the show without shame.

What happened, was David Cook.

I've been a fan of his all season, admitting silently to myself that he's the first true rock star that's ever been on Idol. Even his sub-par version of Our Lady Peace's Innocent last week was forgivable, simply because he knew who the hell Our Lady Peace was. But last night, his performance of -- of all things -- Mariah Carey's Always Be My Baby was nothing short of breathtaking.

What no one mentioned during the show however, so as not to provide an unfair advantage with the voters, was that David Cook was singing the song in tribute to his 36-year-old brother, Adam, who's dying of brain cancer and had traveled from Terre Haute, Indiana to be in the audience and watch his little brother compete.

Which makes it understandable that the younger Cook was in tears onstage after receiving a stunning reception from the judges.

Can't believe I'm saying this about someone who's a current American Idol contestant, but David Cook rules.

The kid's a fucking star.

And All That Could Have Been (One Year Later)

One year ago today, a troubled 23-year-old student at Virginia Tech armed himself with two handguns and methodically stalked the school's campus in Blacksburg, Virginia -- eventually killing 32 people before taking his own life. I was working for CNN at the time, and I wrote this piece for Deus Ex Malcontent in the days that followed the attack -- the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

There were maybe five of us, gathered around a television, watching a woman die.

I had only been in television news for a few months and hadn't yet developed the rough and thickened callus on my soul; that unavoidable consequence of a life lived knee-deep in day-to-day tragedy; the natural armor required to sustain such an existence. I was still learning to crawl among those who had long since evolved into wearied and indifferent creatures for whom another dead body was another dead body was another dead body. They already knew something which I would eventually have to learn -- that sometimes, you have to suppress your gag reflex, bury your humanity and willingly allow the more mechanized aspects of your personality to roll over your emotions like a tank. You needed to do this to get the job done -- and to keep yourself from going insane.

I didn't yet have the luxury of such peaceful detachment though, and so as I stood there -- watching the live feed from Jackson Memorial Hospital in Downtown Miami -- I found that I could barely keep at bay the myriad unnerving thoughts clawing at the inside of my skull.

The pictures we were watching, live and in brutally vivid color, showed the Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue chopper setting down on the hospital's rooftop helipad and the subsequent whirlwind of controlled chaos as the young woman on board was quickly transferred onto a stretcher and whisked inside. In plain view the entire time -- the desperate and seemingly hopeless fight to save her life. I simply stared as one of the doctors jumped onto the stretcher and straddled the woman's naked upper-body, pumping away at her failing heart, his palms flat against her skin. I closed my eyes for an instant to avoid the sight of the bag breathing air into her faltering lungs. I opened them just before the stretcher slammed through the double-doors leading into the hospital -- just in time to catch a glimpse of the massive head wound she'd received less than a half-hour earlier, when someone had fired a 9mm round through her driver's-side window while trying to carjack her in broad daylight, in the middle of tony Coral Gables.

And while those around me cracked jokes, or discussed lunch, or waited to rush the tape of what we were watching into editing -- I silently demanded answers of myself. I wanted to know what gave me the right to watch this woman's final moments of life. I wanted to know who I thought I was that I should be privy to such tragic vulnerability -- to witness the dying breath of a complete stranger. I was a twenty-one-year-old who knew nothing of this person -- nothing of her life, her loves, her hopes and dreams -- yet through nothing more noble than the technology which made such macabre voyeurism possible, I was allowed to be there for her death.

I remember finally turning my head. "I'm so sorry," was all I could whisper as I cast my eyes downward in shame and walked quickly away.

Since that moment, my skin has grown considerably thicker and more bristly. What used to be soft has calcified under the fifteen-year steady drip of daily disaster; what was once overly sincere naivete has given way to the kind of gallows humor that can turn even the most heartbreaking tragedy into a ghastly joke -- one which always ends with a smirk and the cynical admission that only hell can await such crass insensitivity.

This is the necessary defense mechanism -- and this is what was instinctively exploited in the hours that followed the worst shooting rampage in American history.

As the details of what had unfolded on the Virginia Tech campus poured in, I found myself at first engaging in verbal gymnastics.

T.S. Eliot once said something about April being the cruelest month; that was in a poem known fittingly as "The Burial of the Dead," which was the first part of "The Waste Land;" The Who once sang about a "Teenage Wasteland," which is what Virginia Tech has now become.

Then, as the hours and hours passed and the body count skyrocketed -- the sheer enormity of the violence finally becoming clear -- I moved on to logical analysis, followed by a kind of rational righteous indignation. I shook my head at what I knew would surely be the knee-jerk reaction to come: the hand-wringing and political posturing over what might have been done to prevent what was, in reality, a devastating human anomaly -- one that may have been anticipated, but likely couldn't have been stopped by anything short of locking up a troubled and dangerous kid who, until Monday morning, hadn't technically broken the law. I swallowed outrage at the vile opportunism of Scientologists, who were quick to claim that psychiatry was behind the gunman's brutal impulses, and Jack Thompson, who wasn't even aware of the killer's identity and yet was already pointing the finger of blame at the time-honored boogeymen of video games and pop culture. I clenched my fists, closed my eyes and exhaled my fury at one television news anchor agreeing with a local pastor's unforgivably trite nostrum that God sometimes works in mysterious ways. I worried about the possibility that a substantial portion of creative, dark, shy or otherwise unusual kids might now find themselves eyed with suspicion and apprehension -- simply because of one twisted bastard with delusions of martyrdom and the weaponry to bring his furious fantasies to life. I wondered if someone might demand to know why it's as easy to buy a Glock 19 in this country as it is to buy a Happy Meal -- and finally do something about it.

By yesterday morning, I had shut out the ridiculous calls by some for sirens on all American college campuses, and moved on to the curious spectacle of the collegiate mourning process and the round-the-clock coverage of it. I stared quizzically at my monitor as students gathered to loudly proclaim their "Hokie Spirit" -- admitting quietly to myself that truer words were never spoken. I wondered, were I a male Virginia Tech student, if I would pull an Otter-esque line about not wanting to be alone during such a traumatic time in an effort to get CNN's Brianna Keilar to come back to my dorm room. I even sang Team America's I'm So Ronery to myself everytime the image of the gunman -- finally identified as South Korean-born Cho Seung-Hui -- flashed across the screen.

Mostly though, I concerned myself with the question of why every news correspondent in the country had descended on the tiny town of Blacksburg, Virginia -- like locusts desperate to devour the bumper crop of suffering until there was simply nothing left. All the more disconcerting, the millions of television viewers eager to have that pain regurgitated back into their own hungry mouths.

There was, and still is, something grotesquely orgiastic about the whole thing.

Over the past twenty-four hours, the names and faces of the victims have surfaced, a few at a time. As has become ritual, the various news organizations are parrotting every possible detail they can gather as to who these young people were in an admittedly genuine effort to both humanize and memorialize them. The ages of the victims always come first -- simply because there's no other single characteristic about each person that can better convey the overwhelming nature of what was lost in this senseless act. The ages are usually followed by majors, extracurricular activities, then one or two prosaic platitudes about their smiles or infectious personalities or optimistic outlook on life -- this final trait taking on a sad irony given the situation which led to the need for disclosure of such information in the first place. Unfortunately however, no matter how noble the intentions or how powerful the tribute, it's impossible not to feel that so much is missing.

The reason is because each person's unique life is still being filtered through an intermediary -- told second-hand via the one relaying it.

For the first time though, there's another way to learn about the victims of this kind of atrocity -- a way which excises the middle-man, and lets them tell their own life stories in their own words.

As incomprehensible as it would have seemed in life, MySpace has provided each victim his or her own epitaph in death.

Even a cursory scan of their pages reveals the true heartbreaking depths of this loss.

I'm not sure what led me to search MySpace for profiles of some of the dead; I'd like to believe that it was an honest desire to find out who these kids really were -- what they loved and hated, what they wanted for themselves and their futures before it was all ripped away from them by someone who had a plan for their lives they weren't even aware of, nor could they stop.

For some reason, the first name I searched was the victim whom the least was known about at the time.

Her name was Maxine Turner.

She was a twenty-two-year-old chemical engineering student.

Her MySpace address contains the words "Super Sneaky Ninja," which -- despite not knowing the meaning behind it -- brought a sad smile to my face when I first saw it.

Maxine, as expected, went by the nickname Max.

Her site, although rather unremarkable, lists her as single, from Vienna, Virginia, 5'1" and slim -- no doubt the result of Tae Kwon Do classes, which she took regularly. She didn't smoke, but she did drink.

She hoped to have children someday.

The song posted on her profile, which plays automatically, is, strangely, one of my favorites from my own youth -- Men At Work's Overkill, sung by the band's lead singer Colin Hay. I listened to it as I moved beyond the basic information into the tiny singularities of Max's life. There's a blue box which sits directly under the "About Me" headline; it reads "Your Superhero Profile." Apparently, her superhero name was "The Hour Dog;" her special power was biotechnology; her only weakness was -- ironically, devastatingly -- blood; her mode of transportation was a pogo stick.

She wanted to meet Shakespeare, Christian Bale and John Cusack.

Her final blog entry is entitled "For the Ladies," and has her mood listed as "Mischievous." It's an extended and oddly sweet dissertation on the right and wrong way to measure yourself to ensure that a bra is the correct size for your body.

Of all the little details on her main MySpace page though, none proves so haunting as the timeline of comments -- concerned friends at first begging over and over again for a simple phone call, then on Tuesday morning, those same friends' comments abruptly changing to messages of sorrow and loss.

But those are just words.

It's what's inside Max Turner's "pics" page, that leaves you utterly heartbroken.

One photo shows her seated on a stone wall, facing away from the camera -- staring out over a vast valley covered in deep green.

Another shows her sitting on an empty beach, under a wide sky filled with high, white clouds. The caption simply reads "Sand Castle!"

There's a slightly blurry image of a little gray nose and large black eyes, just inches from the lens of the camera that captured it. The caption: "Say hi to Jujubee, my pretty hamster."

In one she's holding a snake, in another she's practicing Tae Kwon Do.

Beneath each picture are dozens and dozens of comments from friends and strangers alike, commemorating her life and expressing regret for her untimely death.

I never met Max Turner, and I never will; I have no doubt that this is my own loss to mourn. I know only as much about her as she herself was willing to disclose, and yet what I've seen leads me to believe that the world is an infinitely lesser place without her in it. The same can be said for Ross Almeddine, and Reema Samaha, and Emily Hilscher, and Ryan Clark, and Daniel Perez Cueva, and Mary Read and the more than two dozen other victims of this incomprehensible tragedy.

I'll go to my own grave grappling with the question of how someone, anyone, can be so consumed by rage that he can look at the face of Max Turner and decide that she has to die.

Like fifteen years ago, I have nothing to offer except an apology -- this time not out of shame, but out of genuine sorrow and an overwhelming sense of helplessness.

I'm sorry that humanity failed you Max.

I'm so sorry.