I had a marketing professor in college who preached the virtues of The Product Market Matrix. Its goal - as you can probably imagine - is to utilize every possible angle to keep a product viable in the marketplace. My favorite component of the matrix was the one about finding a new use for an existing product, like toothpaste. Toothpaste can be used to remove scratches from watch crystals and cd/dvds, it can be used as an acne treatment, it can be used to polish chrome...in short, there's a lot of shit you can do with toothpaste besides polish your teeth. And recently, I found a new use for Ambien...as a fast forward button for life.
A lot of people claim to believe - mostly in theory I presume - that life is something to be savored, seized, or other otherwise prolonged and while I don't necessarily disagree, the individual days that make up one's life can be a downright bummer every now and again. Like Donald Fagen sings on "The Things I Miss The Most": Days don't really last forever, but it's pretty damn close. Truer words have rarely been spoken. So when I'm having one of those days that can't find its way into my rearview mirror fast enough, I turn to Ambien...sweet, sweet Ambien.
There's something empowering - and a tad bit pathetic - about drawing a line in the sand after a shit-eating day and taking time into your own hands, emerging 12-13 hours later with only a foggy recollection of yesterday's indignities floating around in your head like Steve McQueen at the end of Papillon shaking your fist at the heavens, "I'm still here you bastards." And none of that controlled-release business for me thanks, if I were the type of person who related to being eased in and out of things, I probably wouldn’t be using prescription sleep medications to cope with life. I need the old school, knock-you-out-and-leave-you-feeling-groggy-and-perhaps-a-bit-cheap-and-used-the-next-day original formula. I even have the slogan, "Fast-forward your life. Fast-forward...to Ambien."
Sure, the good folks at Sanofi Aventis might not want to officially endorse this new use of their sleep medication but it's not like that'd be the worst thing a pharmaceutical company has ever done...and do they really want the Lunesta people beating them to the punch? Not to mention, these are hard times we're living in and when the going gets tough, I can't tell you what the tough do because I'm in a nearly comatose state brought on by a couple clicks of the fast-forward button chased down with an ice cold beer.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
If you’re reading this review, you probably know the back story on Walter Becker and this album: one half of Steely Dan, 14 years since last solo release, reggae influences, etc., etc., etc. So with that out of the way, let’s talk about Circus Money. First of all, Steely Dan is my favorite group and although I’m not particularly fond of Becker’s first solo, 11 Tracks of Whack, I was looking forward to the release of this album. My first (attempted) listen was conducted in what I thought were optimal conditions: dimmed lighting, Dolby ProLogic II, a refreshing beverage, and a bit of herbal enhancement. The first couple of tracks didn’t do much for me and then “Bob Is Not Your Uncle Anymore” came on and seemed to get things going. I made it a couple of more tracks before my mind started to wonder and turned it off in favor of watching a couple of episodes of Magnum P.I. and didn’t listen to it again for a few weeks.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that my attention span is about the size of a gnat these days but I am still more than capable of maintaining focus when my mind is being engaged. My music purchases have decreased significantly over the past few years simply because more and more when I listen to the things I’m interested in online, I find I’m not moved and/or motivated enough to listen to them ever again - this is not yet another statement on the quality (or lack thereof) of music being released today, if anything, it’s a testament to my lack of attention span/low-level depression/general apathy that demands I be grabbed from the first second and entertained with no lulls for a reasonable amount of time. At any rate, if I had not purchased Circus Money presale via Becker’s site, this album would’ve fallen into that pile.
So after a few weeks of collecting dust on top of my receiver and wanting for some new music to listen to on the nation’s worst public transportation system, I added the album to my mp3 player and gave it a few more listens. First things first, Becker’s voice. It is what it is and in all honesty that has to be accepted right off the bat if you’re going to embark on this mission in any meaningful way but that doesn’t mean that it still doesn’t drag some of the tunes into monotony. For me, the songs fall into one of three categories: solid; good verses, bad choruses; ehs. The solids are: “Bob Is Not Your Uncle Anymore”, “Do You Remember The Name”, “God’s Eye View”, "Somebody's Saturday Night" and my personal favorite, “Darkling Down.” The good verses, bad choruses are: “Paging Audrey” and “Selfish Gene”. The rest are ehs. In short, I bought a really solid EP at an LP price. What’s interesting is that I was a bit dubious when I read about the reggae influences and the songs where those are the strongest ended up being the ones I liked the most.
Much as been debated/speculated about who writes what in the Donald Fagen-Walter Becker partnership and I think their solo offerings make it very clear. Fagen brings the heavily-layered production and slightly less sarcastic, more straight-forward lyrics, whereas Becker brings the straight-forward music and more oblique lyrics. The Nightfly notwithstanding, Fagen’s and Becker’s solo outings leave a bit to be desired although being a production geek, even a less-than-stellar Fagen tune holds some value to me, especially in a 5.1 format. That’s not to say that Circus Money is not a great sounding album, in fact, I think Becker’s bass playing is as good as it’s ever been, it’s just that there isn’t as much going on in the tunes to interest me in and of themselves when the lyrics/melodies don’t.
It could be argued that it’s not fair to judge Circus Money in comparison to Steely Dan or Donald Fagen albums, but it’s impossible for me not to. Becker and Fagen created such a unique style and when you factor in that it’s been over 35 years in the making, you can’t help but associate one without the other(s). At the end of the day, it’s interesting as a fan to hear where Becker is coming from when left to his own devices and in 14 years when he puts out this third disc, I’ll buy it.
Monday, July 14, 2008
For better or worse, the beard is to the ‘00s what goatees were to the ‘90s with everyone from the New York Times to the Chicago Tribune (2 years later) trumpeting its return to fashion. Trends notwithstanding, hair sprouting from one’s face does not a beard make and with Great Beards, I want to highlight some admirable beards.
First up, Ernest Hemingway. Now, I'm not a big Hemingway fan. The Sun Also Risesis the only book of his that I’ve read and to be honest, I don’t see what all of the hubbub is about. However, as a posthumous furniture pitchman, bota-totingwine guzzler, wig-splitter and beard-sporter, Hemingway the character (or caricature) gets my respect.
This beard intrigues me for the simple fact that ol’ Ernest obviously spent significant time grooming and styling it, no small feat for a beard of this length. A beard doesn’t get more coiffed than this…truly a hairdo on his face.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
In the late 90s, NBC embarked on a mission to encapsulate the 1960s in a mini-series appropriately titled The ‘60s. I don’t remember the critical response to The ‘60s but as a smug ironist and unapologetic fan of Bill Smitrovich, I found it to be highly entertaining. Just like Forest Gump was present at pretty much every touchtone of cultural/historical significance throughout his life, the characters in The ‘60s were present/involved in every iconic moment we’ve come to associate with that decade. NBC also gave the 1970s the same treatment and while good, it just didn’t pack the punch of the previous decade and they apparently didn’t see the sued in pursuing any other decade since.
Jump cut to: THE SUMMER OF OUR DISCONTENT – 2008
CBS trots our Swingtown. Set in the apple pie and baseball year of 1976, Swingtown centers on one nuclear family’s upward mobility from an unnamed Chicago suburb apparently stuck in a 50s time warp to the plush confines of Winnetka on Chicago’s tony North Shore where the ‘ludes and chiba chiba flow like Riunite on ice and swinging is in full effect. The family – stock trader husband/father, home-maker wife/mother, high school-aged daughter, and slack-jawed, age-indeterminate son – find themselves torn between the values of their old stick-in-the-mud neighbors and their new, fun-lovin’ ones. From there, you can pretty much fill in the blanks, especially if you’ve ever seen a show about families, innocence lost, eyes being opened to new things and/or adolescence. For me, the show is all about said new, fun-lovin’ neighbors Tom and Tina Decker played by Grant Show and Lana Parrilla.
Tom, a mustachioed, Porsche-driving, Bjorn Borg Fila warm-up-wearing, airline pilot prone to flashing his pearly whites and saying things like “What’s cookin’ good lookin’?” and his former flight attendant wife Tina are the high priests of the local swinging scene. From the dedicated “play room” in their house, to lacing an innocent pan of brownies with pot to liven up a dusty, lake cabin weekend, they’re all about having a good time with as many (or few) people that’ll buy the ticket and take the ride, or as Tom himself says, “Wherever the party’s at, that’s where I’ll be.” Amen, brother…amen.
Being that we’re firmly entrenched in the era of the critically-acclaimed, niche drama, a show based on swinging on CBS has its work cut out for it, especially when the second season of the highly-overrated Mad Men is starting up. If anything, Swingtown is the anti-Mad Men. Where Mad Men uses its era and its related trappings as a sly, wink-wink, nudge-nudge crutch to show you how clever it is and draw painfully obvious parallels to current events while selling the story morally-conflicted, overly-serious advertising execs, Swingtown unapologetically, doesn’t let you forget for one second that it’s based in 1976 because it’s as much a character as anyone on the show. When a scene gets a little heavy, you can count on a rack-focus shot onto or from a can of Tab and/or a music montage to keep the party rolling. There is no work for you as a viewer except to sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s no bummer in the summer, it’s 60 minutes of highly enjoyable, empty calories and at this point, that’s all I can ask for out of a television show.