Archive for January, 2009|Monthly archive page

Like Rock and Roll, Slacker Comedy Will Never Die

In Uncategorized on January 18, 2009 at 6:53 pm

Friday, January 16, 2008; headliner Brian Posehn at Zanies in Nashville

After attending many, many shows, people have the tendency to become kind of cool and unexcitable even when they see one of their heroes take the stage. Not me. When Brian Posehn took the stage at Zanies comedy club Friday night, my heart skipped a little beat at being in such close proximity to someone whose bit parts I’ve admired for years. Ever since he appeared on HBO’s ingenious Mr. Show depicting a hired gay lover sporting cut-off shorts and rug-burned knees, Posehn (pronounced Poe-sane) has been a favorite of mine.

In the Nashville Scene Patrick Rodgers remarks that we might recognize Posehn’s “gargantuan stature, avian features and awkward, froggy voice from his many films and television appearances”. Even though I wince at that unflattering, ruthless description, after watching Brian Posehn headline at Zanies Comedy Club on Friday night, I’ve no doubt he would agree with it.

But Posehn is more than just a big, lumbering, death metal-head who makes self-deprecating jokes about how he resembles a man made of farts. Even though he forewarned the audience, “It’s about to get stupid up in here,” he proved to be a lovable and clever jokester. He jests a lot about masturbation and being a loser who gets lost in on-line video games, but he offers practical advice like throwing the goat and screaming “Slayer!” during a man-on-man blow job makes it “not gay”. I can appreciate that.

Posehn mentioned that he was recording the show because Nashville’s audience had been so great to him on a previous occasion.

Posehn was preceded by San Francisco native, comic Tony Camin. Camin seemed to have no act at all; he was just a man on stage saying funny things he’d though long and hard about. Comedy seems to come so natural to Camin that he doesn’t even need to plan for it. He even lovingly heckled a young man in the crowd who, to Camin, “looked like a Republican”. (The young man was apparently very good-natured and, in fact, not a Republican at all.) Comedy seemed to find Camin instead of the other way around. Even his impromtu encounter with the supposed young Republican was like watching a talent at the batting cages; comedic situations were at hand and Camin bounced them back to his howling audience, more often than not hitting them right outta’ the park.

The subject matter of his non-act was the usual slacker fare, which is fine by me and seemed to be completely relevant to this particular crowd which, it seemed to me, was mainly comprised of thirty-somethings. He discussed hippies who think doors are “negative” and how getting married changes even the most unlikely of men to do gay things like wear a ring. His brand is less punch-line-driven but more like sitting around somebody’s living room laughing until you pee a little bit.


The Life and Times of Taylor Swift

In Uncategorized on January 13, 2009 at 5:28 pm

No one watching the CMT Music Awards believed for an instant that Taylor Swift would perform the entirety of her hit single, “Should’ve Said No,” in a drab gray hoody and unflattering jeans. No, after a brief introduction in which a seated Swift strummed a few chords on an acoustic guitar Kurt Cobain-style, two boy dancers ripped away her grunge look to reveal a glamorous black baby-doll dress. She belted out the song, stomped around on stage, and by the conclusion of the act, was standing in the rain on stage. (This performance relied on a lot of bells and whistles. It was desperate to be remembered.)

She didn’t sound horrible. Her voice was a little trembling in parts, but she generally remained in key.

She didn’t look horrible. Her curly blonde locks cascaded around her face and shoulders and all that. It is obvious her publicist and/or stylist wasn’t going for the sex-pot look a la Carrie Underwood, and that was a wise choice.

The music wasn’t horrible. Not great, but not unlistenable if you like that kind of thing. I wish I could write that this particular song was forgettable, but it’s still ringing in my ears. (I just watched the video on to research for this blog.)

But, in truth, most of her songs are completely forgettable and like her act at the CMT Music Awards Show, is dripping with cliche. Now, this isn’t Taylor Swift’s fault. She is just an attractive young girl who learned to play guitar and wrote a few songs about being a lovelorn teen. She played at the Bluebird Cafe here in Nashville, some record exec saw a lot of potential to make a lot of money, so signed her on to record an album. Three albums later we see the public playing right into the hands of contemporary country’s manufacturers. The music-buying, radio-listening public is eating it up.

But I always have to ask: Why?

And I’ve figured it out. It’s actually really, really, really simple.

Radio country music fans respond in the very same way the average teenager responds: emotionally. And teenage emotions are easy to understand. They’re either happy or sad, depressed or excited, etc. These emotions are easily distinguishable. And, boy, they’re so abundant in teenagers that you could give almost any teen a musical instrument and he/she will write you angst-laden laden hit after angst-laden hit. Even Bob Dylan admits that he couldn’t have written “Times They Are A-Changin'” now.

But there are probably just as many adult Taylor Swift fans as teenage Swift fans. Don’t our emotions and lives get more complicated the older we get? Yes, they do. We muddle through much more serious breakups (sometimes in the form of divorce), we acquire jobs we eventually detest, we start families comprised of our own moody teens, and then we wake up one day with a mid-life crisis (and what’s more complicated than a mid-life crisis?). And this is exactly why Taylor Swift’s lyrics about fairy tales and white horses and being fifteen and starting your freshman year in high school are so appealing to the masses. They do what most country music songs do: they take their audiences back to a simpler time. Contemporary country music is a lot like rap in that it’s all about the lyrics. Record executives of these genres know that the lyrics are what will draw in their audiences. I’ve never heard anyone say, “And the music! Ah, it’s just amazing how (insert name of country “artist” here) blends lyrics and melody to make form equal function.” No one would give a flying flip about country music if it weren’t for the lyrics. 

More importantly, contemporary country’s lyrics enable us to look at our emotions as if they can be dissected dichotomously – they are either black or white. Country audiences revel in removing logic from art. They want stories in their music. To them, songs should be about something – something very emotionally graspable.

Consider these Taylor Swift song titles: “White Horse”, “Fifteen”, “Teardrops on My Guitar”, “Love Story.” Is there any doubt in your mind what these songs are about? Of course not. You know exactly what you’re going to get out of these songs before you even hear them. They do not require any thought on listener’s part other than to nod along and agree with the singer. No imagination or critical thinking required. At the risk of pissing some people off here, I have to note that radio country music, like most popular culture, is for the mentally lazy.

Now, just for contrast, consider these song titles: “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind,” “Deep Red Bells,” “Lake Charles,” “Someone Else’s Song,” “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” (These are random songs from random artists’ albums I pulled off my CD shelves. They run the gamut of genres, although a few you will recognize as alt-country.)

I think the difference speaks for itself.

Demand imagination. Demand cerebral challenges if you don’t already.

Of Montreal in Nashville

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2009 at 9:06 pm

I greatly approve of how Of Montreal kicked their Cannery Ballroom show off: their cover of the Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” really pumped up their already pumped up crowd.

I knew virtually nothing about Of Montreal before I went to their show Saturday night. I had just heard from a couple of sources that they really put on a great show, complete with costume changes. That sounded like good showmanship to me.

Well, I didn’t see any costume changes, but then, I couldn’t see much of anything. The Cannery Ballroom is beautiful, but it’s not the most petite-person-friendly place to see a show. Anyway, what I heard was awesome. Their set list maintained a very steady rhythm of poppy tunes one could really sink one’s teeth into, even for one who’s never heard any of their originals.

They ended their encore with a kickass rendition of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” If you closed your eyes, you’d swear you were in the late nineties (Can’t you just smell the flannel?). Now, some of the youngsters in the crowd probably only knew “Teen Spirit” from Guitar Hero, but nevertheless, it’s a classic that always rocks when done correctly. And it was.

Postscript: And for once in my life, the 6’7″ dude did not decide to park it right in front of 5’0 me. It was a pleasant night.

Romance: the long and the short of it

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2009 at 3:24 pm

Originally, I was inclined to begin this blog with the following memory of one of my very, very, very favorite movies:

In the first remake of the movie Little Women, the main character, Jo March played by husky-voiced June Allyson, retorts to her elder sister’s accusation that she is in search of romance with the boy next door, “Who said anything about romance?!”

But then I realized this would give me away as a hopeless romantic just before I launch into a diatribe about how inconsequential romance is to true love, to the world, to ourselves. After all, “Little Women” is arguably one of the most romantic movies/books ever. I must admit – that’s why I like it!

The romance some of our favorite movies and books provides is exactly why we like them. They are for the most part nothing like real life; if they are anything like real life, they end before we see the less romantic parts. Take, for instance, the classic movie – which is so romantic that it has been the subject of other classic, if contemporary, cinema like Sleepless in SeattleA Love Affair to Remember. Cary Grant and Debra Kerr.  She becomes crippled while racing across a busy New York City street on her way to meet him at the top of the Empire State Building.

Of course, when he finds out some time later why she never made it to the top where he was, of course, waiting for her, he loves her all the more. They embrace and she sobs that unforgettable line: “It was the closest thing to heaven! You were there!” (Gets me every time.)

Then the movie ends.

Wanna’ know more about her uphill battle with physical therapy? Wanna’ see if he stays faithful to her for the rest of their lives (which, based on his philandering in the beginning of the movie, would be unlikely)? Wanna’ know if they go on to have children? Are they healthy and/or fertile enough to conceive? What tribulations will their relationship will have to endure? Will it survive?

That’s another movie. Right?

Ok, you ask, what sparked this exploration about cinematic romance? I’ll gladly tell you.

My friend Kate won’t give internet dating a try because she feels she’ll be destroying “their” “story.” “Their” being herself and her unmet mate. Their “story” being what they’ll say when they are asked, “So, how did you two meet?” What do you think the chances are that, in Kate’s mind, she and her partner are sipping white whine or cosmopolitans while they are relating the uber-romantic story that will end all romantic stories to two or three equally attractive pairs at a soiree located in someone’s – no, not someone else’s: THEIRS!  – their beautiful four-bedroom luxury suburban home, perfect white pickets marching all around the garden? I suppose instead of wine, Kate could be sipping on sparkling grape juice while wearing a soft, pastel maternity dress from…what’s the maternity apparel equivalent of The Gap?

Sounds like something right out of a movie, huh?

That’s because it is.

And while my sister’s Mr. Right (On) could be painstakingly deciding what restaurant he should take her out to on their third date, she is refusing to give up on that romantic vision she has nurtured with countless rom-coms she’s soaked up over the course of her life. There are some she can quote verbatim.  There are actually many she can quote verbatim.  She even taught herself the dance steps to some of the musicals. (I’m not exaggerating for effect.)

The fodder for Kate’s grand illusion of romance has been everything from Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas to Carrie Bradshaw and Mr. Bigg in “Sex and the City.” So, am I dissing romance altogether? Of course not. Romance isn’t the problem here. Kate’s refusal to converge reality with romance is the problem. And she’s not the only one.

This phenomenon goes a lot deeper and has much more dire consequences than just stubborn people refusing to implement alternative ways of meeting other people. There are millions of women in this country alone who are so completely sold on the idea of playing the role of Meg Ryan’s “Sally” or Sarah Jessica Parker’s “Carrie,” that they stay in unhealthy, future-less relationships for the sake of romance. To such a woman, romance happens when a disagreement with her partner results in him bringing roses and candy to make amends, or spouting out a bunch of promises about how she is the only one he could ever love, blah, blah, blah. This is a vicious cycle designed (by both partners) to maintain opportunities for “romance.” That’s the long and the short of it.