Monthly Archives: January 2014

Raising music fans (Or how I learned to stop worrying and love Pink)

A year or so ago, my family was driving to one of my daughter’s volleyball matches. My daughter’s teammate, M, was riding with us. My kid’s playlist hit Madonna’s Lucky Star, and my daughter began singing along.

M: “Who is this?

My daughter: “Madonna.”

M: “Who?”

Who? WHO? I didn’t know M’s mom when we were kids, but I can say with absolute certainty that once upon a time she rocked lacy, finger-less gloves and a fedora, and probably even drew in the fake mole on her cheek. I’d be less than surprised if she didn’t still listen to Madonna, singing along in the car or when of Madge’s classics popped up in a commercial or movie trailer. But her kid, clueless.

When it came to turning my kids into music fans, I started early. I still remember the summer vacation when my daughter, 5, started singing along with Guided By Voices’ Teenage FBI and my son, 3, began chanting”Get down, get down” from Kool and the Gang’s Jungle Boogie when we told him we were going to have to “get down” to the bottom of the ravine before he could exit his stroller and hike with us. Those songs were sandwiched around tracks by Strawberry Shortcake and offerings from The Lion King, but my kids were responding to them just as they would their favorites. Effective brainwashing starts early!

I still maintain a kids’ playlist, mostly for long trips, that includes songs and artists I think my kids should know, such as Diana Ross, The Ramones, Madonna, The Flaming Lips and more. And just like when my kids (now 12 and 9) were little, I mix it up with their favorite tunes and artists, such as One Direction, Pink, Lorde and Bruno Mars.

The mix is intended to do three things: First, the kids aren’t going to pay attention if I just play the tunes I want them to hear for hours on end. And just because they should know pop music from many generations doesn’t mean I don’t want them to enjoy the pop music of their generation. Part of growing up a music fan is connecting with those of your own age over the tunes you love. I remember a friend from church when I was a kid who I was pretty sure was an alien. The first time we met, I was playing the Thriller cassette. He had no idea what Thriller was. He could talk about the Beatles and more of the 1960s poppier artists like an adult, but had no connection to his own era’s tunes. I don’t want my kids to be the weird kids who don’t know what’s up, and I want them to have a broader education than what pop radio would provide them. It’s about balance.

Second, my parents completely disrespected my music, not unlike Jack Black’s tirade against the middle age, would-be I Just Called to Say I Love You purchaser. They were extremely condescending, to the point where it really drove a wedge between us during critical periods of adolescence and made me trust them less. I don’t want that to be the case with my kids. Part of what makes it easier for me to bite my tongue while One Direction’s lowest common denominator crap is being spewed is that I know soon I’m going to be treated to I Can’t Go For That, Stop! In the Name of Love or It’s Tricky.

Third, pop radio is crap. It just is. It was when my parents were kids, it was when I was a kid (because for every Madonna there was a Samantha Fox, Debbie Gibson, etc.) and it is now. You wouldn’t feed your children McDonald’s chicken nuggets and fries for every meal because it would turn their mid-sections to goo, clog their arteries and slowly drain the life from them. Well, what fast food does to you physically, pop music does to you mentally. It’s product spewed to draw advertising dollars and often not very artful. I don’t want my kids tummies or minds to be mush. So I can pick and choose the best of decades of popular tunes to get superior crafted material into their brains while brushing aside the aural refuse.

Someday, maybe my kids will be the freak who cares too much, screaming in rage at some clueless dolt who is just trying to buy his child a birthday gift. I hope not, but I could live with that. It’s definitely better than raising two children who don’t know who Madonna is.

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That’s My Jam #13: Method Man, ‘Bring the Pain’

Read the That’s My Jam manifesto here.

The West Coast had the upper hand heading into the 1990s, with Dr. Dre, Snoop, Warren G, Coolio, Too Short, Ice-T and a whole slew of talent repping America’s West Side. The emergence of the Wu Tang Clan, among others, helped bring the East Coast to prominence as the 1990s aged. Method Man’s Tical is one of my favorite Wu offerings, the combination of Johnny Blaze’s raspy baritone and the RZA doing his best DJ Premiere impression in providing grimy, hypnotic production as the platform for Mista Meth to work from. Meth and Mary J. Blige worked together on the All I Need remake that was the mainstream hit from Tical, but Bring the Pain has always been my fave.

‘Oblivion’: Cruise is Cruise, silence the score and more

It's Tom Cruise, looking like he has in pretty much every movie since Top Gun.

It’s Tom Cruise, looking like he has in pretty much every movie since Top Gun.

* I have to admit, I was a bit surprised by how much I liked Oblivion. I thought it was well written, well-directed, terrific cast, good but not showy special effects. I hadn’t heard great things. It’s not a classic, no, but it seemed like After Earth – which starred the increasingly less likable Will Smith, was directed by the almost completely unlikable M. Night Shyamalan and was very poorly reviewed – got much more attention for all of the wrong reasons. Phht. Hollywood.

* Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise in nearly every movie. He’s become the John Wayne of action flicks you can take a date to see. Yes, there are exceptions over the course of his career, most notably his turns as the devilish Frank TJ Mackey in Magnolia and super agent Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder, but mostly it’s that same smiling, vanilla madman each and every time. It’s worked for him, so who am I to judge?

* How much better with this movie have been if the score had been eliminated? Just the silence of an empty world, broken only by the sounds of machines at work, infrequent dialogue and the three classic rock songs astronaut Jack listens to on vinyl? I don’t know how much freedom director Joseph Kosinski had in that regard, but it really would have provided some eerieness as well as opening up the film by giving the viewer some time to just absorb the “actual” surroundings. Instead, every time there was an opening we got ear-rammed by some guy who was way too in love with the Tron soundtrack.

* Now I’m looking forward to Edge of Tomorrow, which looks kind of like Terminator meets Groundhog Day from the trailer. Cruise is getting more Tom Hanks in his choices, going with what’s interesting instead of just what will add another layer of gold to the Tommy altar. And Emily Blunt is rapidly becoming the female Matt Damon: Worth watching every time.

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Trashy title + Trashy cover = Very interesting book

An interesting book wrapped in a less-than-classy cover.

An interesting book wrapped in a less-than-classy cover.

“First. Don’t judge the book by this cover. Second. Don’t judge it by its title. The story is not cheesy or corny.” – From the blog Find a Girl Who Reads

Paula over at Find a Girl Who Reads is the one who turned me on to this book with her review, linked above. The premise of Kiss Me First is very Hitchcockian: A mysterious man approaches a socially awkward, sheltered young woman named Leila with an idea. There’s a miserable woman, Tess, who wants to commit suicide, but doesn’t want to leave her friends and family sad and hurting. So Leila will become Tessa on all social media, leaving the impression that Tess is alive but has moved a remote area where she can’t be easily reached. Tess will then leave this mortal plane, securing her body in place where it may never be found. Tess says that contact with what she believes to be largely uninterested family and friends will eventually tail off, and Leila will then be freed of her responsibility. Leila, a huge believer in personal responsibility as well as assisted suicide, is intrigued and agrees to do it.

No way that can go wrong, right?

The set-up is terrific, with Leila working to satisfy the curiosity of Tess’s friends and family as well as being concerned about being discovered. Slowly, Leila starts to lose her own identity within Tess’s, leading to other complications.

The problem is this: In the end, it kind of all just falls apart. On the one hand, that results in what is a pretty realistic ending. Recriminations, anger, hurt, sadness, it’s all there and it plays out in a grounded, well thought-out way. On the other hand, the realistic ending isn’t all that exciting after a terrific, suspenseful buildup. As the plan falls apart, the fallout seems all too quick and less than interesting.

Despite my mild disappointment in the wrap-up, I’d definitely recommend the book. It’s a clever piece of writing, and while Leila is often cringe-worthy in any sort of social context, because of her sincerity and naiveté, it’s hard not to root for her and hope that she walks away from this mad situation unscathed.

So thank you, Paula, for the recommendation. This is my way of passing it along.

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‘Anchorman’ out-sequels ‘Thor’

These seriously un-serious fictional newsman have more important things to say about the world than anything you're likely to see on any real-life cable news network.

These seriously un-serious fictional newsman have more important things to say about the world than anything you’re likely to see on any real-life cable news network.

A caveat before I begin my tirade: If you don’t like Will Ferrell, nothing said here is going to change that. While I am fond of Will, I get that not everyone is, and that many feel about him the way I feel about actors/comedians such as Adam Sandler or Jim Carrey, both of whom I have very little interest in.

That said, Anchorman 2 is a better sequel than Thor: The Dark World. Not necessarily a better movie, per se, but a better sequel. It comes down to one thing: Anchorman 2 knows what it is and effectively adheres to its vision, whereas Thor: The Dark World lacks a central theme to drive it.

In the original Thor, the story really is this: Spoiled, privileged heir to the throne gets smacked down by daddy until said heir learns that yes, his shit does stink. That makes Thor work. The costumes are ridiculous, the animated Asgard is ridiculous … there’s a lot of ridiculousness going on in that film. But Thor works because the story is grounded in the maturation of its title character. It isn’t about ice giants or Loki or the Destroyer. It’s about growing up, taking responsibility and recognizing that you aren’t the center of the universe. That’s the center that the plot and action revolve around, and even Loki’s sub-plot – where he becomes the entitled brat who throws a tantrum until he gets his chance rule the universe – is tied to this one theme.

And what is the Dark World‘s central premise? It’s that, er, um, well … yeah, I’m not sure. Actually, the whole movie seems to be one enormous red herring designed to get you focused on Thor and his crew and ignore the fact that what the flick really is just a set-up to get Loki out of prison. That’s it. That’s the only truly important thing that happens in the film. Everything else is really just big explosions or small things to move the Marvel-verse along until the next Avengers film. It’s a fun action flick, but there’s no meat, just fluff.

This is why Anchorman 2 is the superior sequel. The main, driving focus of the original Anchorman is the loss of male privilege and the ascension of women to places of power within the news industry specifically, the working world in general. Yes, there’s a whole lot of stupid shit that revolves around that, but that is the central premise that holds Anchorman together.

In the sequel, the central theme is the moron-ification of television news. It’s driven home repeatedly throughout Anchorman 2. When the world looks away from the Yasser Arafat interview to watch a car chase in Milwaukee, when Brick stands screaming in the middle of terrifying storms, when Champ sits there and screams “Whammy!” for every slam dunk and home run, yes it’s funny and foolish, but is it really that different from what one might see on any given day on Fox News, ESPN, CNN, etc.? The continual demeaning of real news to provide light, mindless content that the masses will love is at the very core of the 24-hour news cycle. The elevation of non-stories – anything involving the British royal family, Benghazi, Duck Dynasty – while the Serious News People completely ignore the economy, the racist Republican house and their never-ending war against a black president, how the American system has been perverted to punish workers and reward those born with silver spoons in their mouth is an hourly event on television news. Anchorman 2 is an insanely ridiculous movie that hammers on some very serious points. And that hammering is what keeps Anchorman 2 from completely going off the rails like other Will Ferrell vehicles (The Other Guys, Stepbrothers, etc.).

Or like Thor: The Dark World does.

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