Swiffer Wet JetI was so excited to try out the Swiffer Wet Jet yesterday. At work we have a grody old sponge mop with a pull-and-wring contraption combined with some 20-year-old Industrial Mystery floor cleaner. It really just smears mud around, and people come in and prance all over it as soon as I'm done. So, I was stoked when I got clearance to use the company credit card for the extravagance of Swiver Wet Jet technology. I didn't blink once when the cashier rang it up for $24.99 and even 2 refils at $7.99 each.
At work, I delicately pulled all the parts out and laid them on the counter next to the "user's guide." Step 2: insert 4 'AA' batteries into base mechanism and snap closed. Batteries!? Somehow this device needed that much battery power to run the little squirt-u-lator mechanism. I frantically began digging around various drawers and was able to unearth exactly one sad old battery from the '80s. Disappointedly, I put the Swiffer away in the broom closet. I made a mental note to pick up some cheapo batteries before my next shift.
Today, I was almost at work and I remembered: the damn batteries! I was not going to go another day without trying out this glorified purple plastic mop. I raced into the Chevron and paid nearly $5 for four 'AA's. Five fucking dollars for a couple of cheap batteries! Clearly, the terrorists are winning. Anyway, I didn't really care since my brain was in a narcotic Swiffer haze at that point and I just had to get them. Later, at work I put the batteries in the machine and waited for the place to clear out so I could get a good shot. I pressed the white button for the recommended three seconds and the squirted made an audible, satsfying whirr.
The Swiffer Wet Jet is light and easy, cool and breezy. The scent that rose to my nose was fresh, yet fruity - slightly tropical. The dull brown tiles suddenly sparkled in the wake of the Pampers-like cleaning pad. This product is truly a back-saving merry-making delight, and was worth the overnight wait. I did what I imagined so many others doing upon their invocation into the Swiffer cult: I gathered every crusty mop in the building and tossed them right into the dumpster. Au revoir!
American Idol Orajel Toothpaste, Green AppleAh yes, American Idol and Orajel. They go together like...well...they don't really go together at all, you wouldn't think. But here they are married together in the form of a gooey green apple flavored tooth gel. This stuff reminds me of that liquid candy that's just pure high-fructose sugar syrup mixed with ungodly flavorings. In fact, I'm pretty sure that's what it is. Imagine brushing your teeth with an extremely sour liquid sugar and you've got the idea. Not bad, really. I wouldn't use this product if you are looking for the classic, practical qualities usually found in a toothpaste i.e. clean teeth, fresh breath, cavity control. But really, who needs all that when you can just make uncontollable sour faces instead. Soon, when your teeth start rotting out and your breath smells like an apple head doll's ass, you won't have any friends left to impress with minty freshness anyway. How does TV's popular American Idol show tie into this product? Isn't it obvious? (Also available in Watermelon flavor.)
Diet Pepsi Jazz - Strawberries-n-Cream
Maybe I'm dating myself a bit here, but I remember a wonderful and refreshing product called "Pepsi Light" that came in a light blue can and had a nice lemon taste to it. It was a lot different than today's weak version, "Pepsi Twist." The lemon flavor was strong and hit hard. It was a wild idea at the time too, to combine such odd flavors together like that. Years later, much older and jaded by pointless consumerism and marketing, I barely can work up a yawn when Pepsi announces a new flavor. I have seen blue Pepsi and clear Pepsi, Pepsi One and Holiday Spice Pepsi, every combination of diet, calorie-free, caffeine-free, flavor-free madness that you could even dream up. It was only a matter of time before they started dabbling in berry flavors. In apparent attempt to "Jazz" up boring old diet Pepsi, someone had the idea to throw some Strawberry flavoring up in there, but not enough to really taste, just enough to create a tease and leave the consumer with a tragic Splenda-induced aftertaste. The creaminess so temptingly implied in the name was nowhere to be found in the actual product. In fact, the taste is almost the exact opposite of creamy. It's bitter and acidic, harshly overcarbonated, weak on the flavor side, and just plain nasty. Other flavors in the series are Black Cherry French Vanilla and Lime Berry. My recommendation: skip the Pepsi Jazz line of products entirely and do like we did in high school: dissolve a bag of Skittles in a can of Pepsi. The flavor is much better, the sugar rush hits a lot harder, and the act of making such a concoction is fun. Bottoms up!
In honor of the fair, which I doubt I will actually be attending (although it's almost worth $10 admission just for a yummy Elephant Ear), a rare poem by my favorite poet:
"The Ferris Wheel"
The world was opening
its insane asylums
ike a forgetful old man
buttoning up his pants
instead of unbuttoning them.
Are you going to go
to the toilet
in your pants,
The rain was a dark Ferris wheel
bringing us closer
to Baudelaire and General Motors.
We were famous
and we kicked
- Richard Brautgan, 1956
Oooo weeee! Girl is pissed. We don’t see this side of Lady B. very often, but when we do - look out! Raging diva on the loose. Seriously, she’s done an excellent job here of portraying the insanity and paranoia of a broken relationship. The song takes off with a wailing siren and Beyonce shouts so manically she makes her delicate vocal chords sound strained and raw: “I’ll be damned if I see another chick on your arm!”. It’s a classic pop motif: I’ll murder you if you start dating someone else (see the Beatles’ “Run for Your Life.”) The 808 bass bumps aggressively, the handclaps are sassy and mean, the telegraph staccato synth is frantic like it’s got an emergency to report on. The whole aura is drama and desperation, and it only lets up briefly during the bridge section, in which Beyonce seems to have calmed down a bit and realized that she don’t need no man all up her biznitch after all. It’s nice to see that Beyonce isn’t content to rest on her success and play it safe. This is quite edgy, a true step forward for her as an artist, and impressively scary in its feminine rage. (Rating 9.5/10)
The Killers – “When You Were Young” (Island, 2006)
I can’t stand Bruce Springsteen. Sorry, I know that’s a little sacrilege to say in certain circles, but I don’t care. I think he’s a tired old wheezebag. When I read reports about the Killers suddenly developing a Springsteen fetish, I was not impressed. It must be a U2 thing. The U2 influence was clear on the Killers debut, but in more of a “new wave” kind of way. Hot Fuss wasn’t really a subtle record at all - it had some major U2-ish epic qualities to it. On “When You Were Young” they manage to slide right through Springsteen territory right into Meat Loaf city. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s so self-consciously epic and bombastic that it becomes almost humorous.It’s slickly produced, mainstream rock record in mid-80’s MTV style. Brandon Flowers’ voice and lyrics are the only thing a bit Springsteen-esque, all quavery and gravelly. Unfortunately, this record never really rises above average – it thunders by so quickly that nothing especially memorable sticks in the brain. (Rating 6/10)
Beck – “Nausea” (Interscope, 2006)
"Aw it's Nausea, rock on!" An echoey vintage drumbox, an acoustic guitar, electro bleeps, finger bells, white-boy rap. Yes, Beck is back and all the usual elements are here. There was a time when Beck was expected to create miracles in stereophonic sound, and indeed he did. He explored his two alter egos to the extreme (Prince on Midnight Vultures, Bob Dylan on Sea Change) and here, while not sounding nearly as experimental, he manages to settle into a cozy niche between the two, as he did on last year’s rather fine Guero LP. The big deal this time is that the new album The Information was produced by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, who has worked with Beck on the slower, Dylanesque records - but this time they decided to go upbeat and fun. "Nausea" is classic Beck jangle-pop, simple and catchy, witty and wordy. The new tracks I've heard so far are not neccesarily among his very best compositions, but they show that Beck is still an amazing recording artist – no one since the Beatles and George Martin have used the recording studio as a compositional tool to such stunning effect. The Information will be packaged with a blank cover and come with stickers so you can make your own unique design. How cool is that? More amazing tracks from the new album can be previewed at beck.com. (Rating 7.5/10)
Lincoln’s 10,000 Silver $ Inn
I-90 Exit 16
What a trip. This place has literally not changed one iota since at least some time in the mid 1970’s if not earlier. When Quincy and I entered the building, it was a bit of an overload as memories began flooding back to me. My parents used to get bored and drag me along for day trips here and there, and for some reason we would often end up here at the ultimate tourist trap - Lincoln’s 10,000 Silver $ Inn in tiny Haugan, Montana, just across the border. Maybe it was the name, or maybe it was just the era, but a trip here seemed like a visit to a magical place when I was a wee tot, huge and all bright blinking lights and fun fun fun. Even my parents would get excited, looming greedily over the salad bar with lit cigarettes and sipping hi-balls. I recall it as being pretty ritzy at the time. Now, visiting here is like flashing back to another era that you can never (and don’t really want to) relive. The magic is gone, and the years have not been kind. The off-pink walls give away the fact that smoking was not only allowed here for many years, but heavily promoted. The scent still lingers on the yellowed wagon wheels and cattle skulls that “decorate” the place. The well-worn brown naugahyde booths clash perfectly, leaving one to wonder if even in the deepest, darkest dregs of the seventies it was somehow acceptable to mix pink and brown.
“Please Seat Yourself” read the sign at the café entry. The gift shop, casino, and bar were abuzz with activity but the cafe was empty but for one random table full of rather gothy looking teenagers who looked like they’d been sitting there for three weeks. Naturally, we picked a booth near them so we could spy on their antics (We were them once, many years ago.) Our plump but very pleasant waitress poured our water and gave us our menus. Wow – the water here is damn good. I always brag about how good CDA water is, but this tasted like it just melted right off a glacier and into my cup. The menu was full of standard cafeteria fare – sandwiches, burgers, steak and salad, chicken strips, and the prices were clearly oriented toward the tourist. I picked a Mushroom Swiss Burger and Fries for $8.95, and Q settled on a Western Burger for the same price. Good thing we decided quickly because our waitress returned after giving us only about 45 seconds. More water, please – I wanted to bottle it and take it home. Meanwhile, our gothy teen neighbors were making fun of the busload of Japanese tourists that had just poured into the gift shop.
One thing that can pretty much always ruin a dining experience is pesky, bombarding flies. Lincoln’s has some damn hard-core specimen buzzing around. We waved our hands around wildly trying to shoo them away, but it was pretty much useless. One landed for a moment on the rim of Quincy’s just-refilled water glass, leaving him almost in tears: “Shit! Now I can’t drink it.” I thought “Oh, good, more for me, as I wiped of the edge and took a glug.” I’m not a fan of flies, believe me, but Q’s a picky, germphobic girl when it comes to that type of thing. In fact, if I weren’t buying lunch and if he weren’t so hungry, we would have been gone at the sight of the first fly. The busboy, an elderly gentleman, noticed our wild gesticulations and approached the table gingerly. “I know…sorry about them darn flies. We had a guy in here gettin’ rid of ‘em last night, but as soon as that door opens, they just come right back in…but hey, it’s just like home, I guess you could say.” Quincy and I looked at each other with the same thought: “Maybe your home, dude, not mine…”
Inside the tiny open kitchen, we could see about six good-looking young men racing around, preparing our food and acting excited that they actually had something to do. I’m guessing the café must get busy at some point if they have this many chefs on hand. As soon as our food was done, they began roaming the place, desperately looking for ways to keep busy, wiping and rewiping counters. Our burgers arrived in plastic baskets lined with classic red and white checkered paper. Mine was huge, and as I went to take my first bite, I dripped a viscous combo of grease and mayonnaise exactly all over the front of my shirt. Argh. Why does this always happen to me, an on my first bite, yet. Q laughed, having seen it happen a dozen times before – “Hope you brought an extra shirt, cuz I don’t even wanna be seen with you in that dirty thing your wearing.” What a bitch. Meanwhile, the burger was pretty good, but became even messier after the bun began to dissolve in my hands. I had grease and condiments all over my shirt, arms, and face. Quincy daintily ate his, managing to not spill one drop of BBQ sauce or lose one crumb of the giant onion ring that lurked within. The giant fries were fresh-cut and delicious. We ate as quickly as possible, as to not give the evil flies even a chance to land on our food. Our waitress came by for a final check: “Dessert?” “No, thanks – more water please!” The food was tasty and quite satisfying, but nothing out of the ordinary, and certainly not worth nine dollars each. Any local Wendy’s offers similar fare at a better price, let’s put it that way.
Full, we paid and waddled into the gift shop where I continued flashing back to childhood: The huge bins of shiny, multicolored rocks; the cheesy cowboy and Indian art; the faux-fur Daniel Boone hats; the shiny purple foil of Huckleberry chocolates; the million little dust-gathering knick knacks covering every flat surface. At a table in the bar lifelessly sat two carved wood figures, and I remembered them sitting there so many years ago. Quincy pointed at my ungodly stained shirt and true to his word waved “bye-bye” as he headed out to the car. Looking around, I found a black T-shirt with a shiny, glittery silver dollar and the words “Lincoln’s 10,000 Silver $, Montana” and brought it up to the counter where a couple of clerks were laughing uncontrollably. I was sure they were making fun of me so I joked “Oh, yes, the food was so good here I decided I had to wear it.” One of clerks said “Oh no, it’s not you…” and the other one leaned in and whispered to me “Oh, we’re just boy-watching, and she’s just awful, just awful.” The first clerk fanned herself with her hand: “Let me tell you there are some hawt guys around here – woo hoo!” I looked around the gift shop and realized the only men present were a couple of scrawny, smelly cowboy types with lips full of chew under huge mustaches and terrible mullet hair cuts – in other words totally not hawt. I gave a bewildered courtesy laugh and handed over the cash for my shirt. “Wow, welcome to Montana” I thought to myself as I snuck into the men’s room to change.
Rating: Food: 6/10 Ambience: 3/10 Service: 8/10 Water: 10/10
Robbie, darling. Maybe you think you’ve sold so many records, and made so much money that you can just experiment and genre-hop at whim? Yes, and thank god because if he keeps breaking the mold and putting out records like this, he’s got a lot more life in him than perhaps we thought. Last year’s Human League-esque “Radio” single was a brilliant new-wave pastiche and he does the same thing here for old-school hip-hop. It’s a parody of rap music, really. Our lad has been trying for years to “break America” and if this one doesn’t do it, nothing will. Robbie’s rhymes are totally fruity: at one point he encourages the listener to “shake your Playtex.” As for what’s a Rudebox, that’s left up to your imagination – it’s used as a noun and a verb – “Do the rudebox, Shake your rudebox” / “If you rudebox me, I’ll rudebox you too.” Nonsense, really. With a Casio-funk bump-and-grind beat and a synth riff stolen from under Cameo’s codpiece, it’s a little reminiscent of Midnight Vultures era Beck, but whereas Beck seemed fully detatched from the funk, Robbie wears it like cashmere tracksuit.The cherry on the white-boy cupcake is the breathy flygirl backing vox and the deep-voiced soul brother saying “You so nasty.” Mr. Williams, you just seem to get more clever with age, just stay away from the Sinatra tributes, will you love? (Rating 9/10)
Paris: “Turn It Up” (Heiress Records, 2006)
Paris Hilton’s Snatch is a national treasure, an icon. It has a career of its own, apart from that of its owner. Mentally, we detach them from each other, we keep them separate. It’s something we do perhaps out of pity for Paris - we want to take her seriously, we want to hope she might have some charm or talent. The Snatch keeps ruining things for her, popping out and behaving in a generally nasty fashion. We love them both, but for different reasons. Her debut single “Stars are Blind” was a nice bit of fluff, easy on the ear but not enough to seriously grab anyone. It wasn’t quite the huge summer hit Paris and co. were hoping for. To me, it suffered from the complete lack of acknowledgment of the Snatch. It happens again on her second rush-released single “Turn It Up.” Sorta. I mean, here it seems like Paris herself is spoiling the Snatch’s moment of glory by not letting it run as wild and free as it could across this record. Mega-producer extraordinaire Scott Storch applies his usual addictive pop sheen, creating a sexed-up club atmosphere, but Paris sounds stiff as a Barbie doll, instantly turning the track ice cold with her breathy frigidness. You can almost hear the Snatch under there, begging to be free, but Paris just won’t loosen up enough. Her vocal performance truly makes Britney sound like a talented innovator, and that’s pretty sad. Things would go much better for Paris if she dropped the notion of trying to appeal to the post-Disney crowd and hired Peaches to produce something truly raunchy and fun, a description this record is trying so hard to earn, but fails miserably. (Rating 3/10)
Essay 1: Music of the Early 20th Century: A Wild Mix of Cultures
(I was cleaning out some old files on my hard drive and came across several years worth of essays written for various classes I've taken. I thought I'd post the best ones here on the blog as a way to save them permanently without taking up my valuable disc space. Quite sorry to bore you, but hey - maybe you'll learn something, kiddo.)
Music of the Early 20th Century: A Wild Mix of Cultures
History 112-60 - May 1, 2005
The opening scene of Upton Sinclair’s 1906 classic novel The Jungle features an amazingly detailed depiction of a wedding feast taking place in the rear room of a Chicago saloon. The music at this traditional Lithuanian feast plays a vitally important role in the proceedings. The songs inspire visions of home. Tamoszius Kuszleika is the lead fiddler. He taught himself to play by practicing all night after working in the "killing beds" of the slaughterhouses all day. A ritual called the Acziarimas ceremony is the highlight of the evening, and involves a long dance that lasts for over three hours. The guests form a ring enclosing the bride, Ona, and men dance with her. When they've had their dance, they donate a bit of money into a hat that Elzbieta holds in her hands.Sinclair spares no detail in his vivid descriptions of the dancing party. Reading the novel, one can almost hear the oom-pah of the accordion and drunken scratch and yowl of the violin.
American music in the early 20th century was an enormous mish-mash of different international styles, brought over to these shores by the hundreds of thousands of immigrants that were arriving at the time. The Lithuanians described in the first chapter of The Jungle were just one group of Europeans who brought their musical traditions with them to the promised land. Especially in large cities, like The Jungle’s industrialized Chicago, an eclectic mix of musical influences brewed under the surface of millions of workers.
It’s important to bear in mind that recording technology didn’t really exist and radio was still in it’s infancy at the time. The most popular music in America was performed live and distributed via sheet music. The different types of music brought over with the immigrants pretty much remained isolated to the different communities that represented each culture. Once people of different cultures began to intermingle, their cultural details intermingled as well and new forms of music were often fused and emerged into popularity.
Beginning back as early as when the first settlers arrived As the homeland of many of the settlers of the original 13 Colonies, and a major source of immigration thereafter, England's musical traditions are closely tied to those of the United States, especially Appalachian folk music. In the latter part of the 19th century, there was a thriving brass band tradition in the US, drawing on British bands formed around factory workers. German immigrants brought with them a variety of music, waltzes, polkas and oom-pah bands among them. A German musical society of the mid-19th century formed the Seventh Regiment Band, the only exclusively regimental band of the time and one of the most popular brass bands of the era. Pennsylvania German culture was a mixture of British, South German and other elements. The songs are primarily German, many based on British tunes. Pennsylvania spirituals are a well-known kind of folk hymn, most of which date to the early 19th century, but remained popular until well into the 20th.Italian folk traditions have had a lasting influence on the creation of American forms such as barbershop singing and doo wop. Norwegian-American folk music in the United States is mostly found in Minnesota and surrounding states. Reinlanders, polkas and waltzes are played; of these, waltzes are by far the most common. Instruments include the psalmodikon, fiddle and accordion. Celebrations like Syttende Mai have become an important outlet for traditional Norwegian music.
Similar to the Lithuanians described in The Jungle, The Eastern-European music community is strongest in the area around Chicago. The city's Polish-American community spawned a wave of musicians that are usually considered polka players, though their actual output is quite varied. New York City, Detroit and Minneapolis also have Polish-American musical traditions. Chicago's Orkiestra Makowska, led by George Dzialowy, defined that city's unique sound for many years. Although Sinclair describes his immigrants as “waltzing”, this type of music would eventually mix with other cultures in the early decades of the 20th century and morph into something known as polka, a form of music enormously popular for a while during this era. Slovenian-American polka musician Frankie Yankovich is by far the most famous musician of that genre. He began his career in the 1930s, beginning with some regional hits in the Detroit and Cleveland areas, followed by mainstream success in the later 1940s. Primarily associated with Slovenia, Germany and Poland as well, the Czech Republic includes Bohemia, the original home of the earliest forms of what would become known as polka music. Polka has a long history in the United States, and the city of Chicago, among others, had produced numerous innovations in the genre.
One thing many of these different cultures had in common here in the US in the early part of the 20th century was extreme poverty. Many had followed their dream over to these shores in hopes of finding their fortune in “the promised land.” The reality that awaited them when they arrived was quite different from that fantasy. Like Jurgis, the lead character in Sinclair’s The Jungle, the groom at the Lithuanian ceremony described earlier, many immigrants found themselves living with their families in filthy, rat infested boarding houses and working for pennies under unimaginably harsh conditions, like the squalid and bloody stockyards and meat processing plants Sinclair does such a wonderfully stomach-churning job of describing. Labor laws seemed to be barely followed by employers, if even in place at all. One could imagine that the only reprieve for these immigrant workers from the endless sweat and toil was losing themselves in traditional music and dancing at every possible occasion.
Obviously, the enjoyment of music in early 20th century America was not exclusive to immigrants. Modern Native Americanpow-wows arose around the turn of the 20th century. While some claim that powwow had been an important part of indigenous cultures for centuries, some modern historians believe that powwows were invented to appeal to tourists and had only a tangential relationship to genuine Native American traditions, which generally revolved around ceremonial dance music. Also in the beginning of the 1900’s, a form of popular song known as Tin Pan Alley came to dominate the nation's music scene. Songwriters like Irving Berlin, Harry Von Tilzer, and George M. Cohan produced many catchy melodies early in the new century. Folk and country music dominated the sound of rural white performers, and both managed to achieve some mainstream success. African American jazz and blues performers diversified their sound and managed to achieve some success among white Americans.
Jazz and Blues were the first distinctly American forms of music in that their roots can be partially traced back to the African rhythms brought to these shores when black slaves were shipped into the USA by the thousands. Another influence on these forms of music was the traditional folk and religious songs of their formerly European owners, which the slaves gradually picked up on in the Christian churches many of them attended. The vocal approach and musical structure of the Blues can be traced back to the chants and hollers that the slaves would engage in all day to pass the day of hard work by faster. By the early to mid 20th century, may ex-slaves and their descendants had melded these styles together into the new styles of Jazz and Blues music, as well as Gospel, which is an exclusively church based form of African American music.
In Anne Moody’s autobiography Coming of Age in Mississippi, we see that music plays an important role in the religious aspect of the lives of the African-Americans in the dirt-poor Southern US of the first half of the century. Moody describes her delight at hearing a live church choir sing “Rock of Ages” and “Sweet Jesus” for the first time at the Centreville Baptist church.She describes her intoxication with the sound of the preacher leading his followers in a chorus of “Come to Je-e-sus! He will save you!” and in an emotionally charged part of the book has a near out-of-body experience when being baptized to the tune of “Take Me To The Waters.”One of the most powerful scenes of Coming in Age in Mississippi occurs when Moody is Homecoming Queen at her school and the band in the parade plays the traditional American tunes “Dixie” and “SwaneeRiver.”She realizes that she is seeing blacks and whites singing along to the tunes harmoniously, that these mere songs had the power to bring everyone together and unify people from such different backgrounds. This was the first time perhaps she recognized that music has this type of power, it can cross boundaries and make people change their minds. Moody would harness this power later in life when her book became a cornerstone in the cultural movement of the 1960’s when many of her closest supporters and associates were the protest singers of the era, like Odetta or Peter Paul and Mary.
Throughout the history of the United States, music has played an important role in the lives of it’s citizens.However it was the coming together of so many divergent cultures during the first part of the 20th century that created such an unforgettable impact. Different elements from different cultures, from Native American, to European, to African combined to create new forms such as Jazz, Blues, Gospel, Blues, and eventually Rock and Roll, R&B, and Hip-Hop. All these popular forms of music have their roots in this era when music was a popular form of escape from the poverty and daily grind that most US citizens, immigrant or native, had to withstand.
1993'sDebut is Bjork’s official solo debut, but every fan knows she was a very busy girl before that. She recorded her first Icelandic album at age seven, and several punk bands later, she became famous as singer of the Sugarcubes. In 1990, between Sugarcubes albums she released Gling Glo, a very odd little record, recorded in one day with a jazz quartet and sung entirely in Icelandic. The liner notes and credits also appear in Icelandic, which is a crazy language to begin with, and leaves the circumstances of the recording as a bit of a mystery. She is credited here under her full name Bjork Gudmundsdottir and little fanfare is made of her appearance, she’s just one of the band. The vibe here is cool and relaxed, like something you could picture hearing at a smoke-filled martini lounge in Reykjavik. It’s a refreshing contrast to hear Bjork’s voice in pure organic form, without all the electronic glitchiness and computer sheen that accompanies so much of her solo work. Here, she just belts everything out in her native tongue with unhinged enthusiasm and childlike glee, against a simple backing of piano, drums, and upright bass. In fact, some of the songs almost seem like Icelandic nursery songs, all sing-songy and happy. One assumes that many of the songs are standards, since each is credited to a different writer. No matter what the material, here Bjork really proves her ability as a jazz singer, and if she ever gets bored with experimental electronics, she has the makings for a great traditional jazz diva. Her vocal range is delightfully all over the map here, growling and screeching loudly and quietly in her breathlessly trademark fashion. The album has a nice spontaneous feel, as though everything was recorded in one quick take (it likely was.) Although it does occasionally drag with a feeling of sameness, Gling Glo is a fun, utilitarian record, perfect as jazzy background music for the workplace, and good to turn up loud for dancing at the cocktail party. (Rating 8/10)
If you are a frequent visitor here (Hi there, all 6-9 of you), you’ve noticed I’ve been posting a lot of music reviews on this blog lately so I decided to break them down into several regular columns. This one -“Pop Pap”- will feature reviews of current chart singles and things could get ugly. Although my music tastes traditionally lean toward the underground/obscure/alternative side of things, I’ve always had a love-hate thing going on for shameless pop. This column will give me a chance to exorcise these demons. I’d love to see your thoughts and bitchy comments. (“Soft Earwax” will be comprised of new release indie/electronic albums, and “The Throwback” will consist of reviews of old favorites and rediscovered classics.)
Fergie – LondonBridge – single (A&M, 2006)
I really wanted to hate it, and in the not-to-distant future when I’ve heard it a zillion times, I’m sure I will. But for now, my booty is bouncing uncontrollably, and I like it. I'd never paid much attention to Black Eyed Peas until Stacy Ferguson showed up out of the blue with her brazen sassiness, her Godzilla botox lips, and her onstage pants-pissing antics. “My Humps” is truly a trash classic even though the ass jokes wear a little thin after a few hundred listens. So here we are with the inevitable solo record, and as Ms. Stefani would say – This shit is bananas, b-a-n-a-n-a-s. In fact if I were Gwen, I’d be seeking legal council, so fully does “LondonBridge” swipe its schtick from “Hollaback Girl.” It’s a plodding and maddeningly catchy marching band beat complete with a blaring horn loop. Her rhymes come off like a poor girl’s Missy Elliott, and the faux sexy bridge section is pure Pussycat Dolls (whose producer also helped make this record.) I don’t really get the innuendo here when she says “How come every time you come around my LondonLondonBridge wanna go down.” – Can she really be referring to her vagina as her “LondonBridge?” Or maybe she's talking about giving oral pleasure while wearing some English dentures. Either way this is irritatingly brainless, yet intensely brilliant pop music.
Beyonce – Déjà Vu feat. Jay-Z– single (Columbia, 2006)
For someone who supposedly retired from making records, Jay-Z sure seems to show up on a lot of them. Here, he puts in some words for his fiancée Beyonce (yeah, it rhymes) and basically, he needs to stop. He pretty much ruins a perfectly fine Beyonce single with his pointless grunts and rants. The song itself packs a big, jazzy whallop. There seems to be a recent trend in pop music back toward huge production and away from minimalist beats and bass, and “Déjà Vu” is gigantically produced with layers of funk bass, horn sections, multiple layers of vocals. It’s a fast one - it races by your ears like a blazing bullet train, all silver and hi-gloss. Unfortunately, all the glitzy trimmings can’t really hide the fact that underneath lies a sadly unmemorable tune. Beyonce, to her credit, sings the hell out of it – we haven’t heard her get this riled up in quite a while. Overall, it’s not bad, but it doesn’t quite measure up to her best work. Let's hope at least the club mixes are Jay-Z free. Rating 6.5/10
Jessica Simpson – A Public Affair – single (Epic, 2006)
Jessica wears her new freedom from Nick Lachey like a maxi-pad and this is the music playing in the background of the commercial. At first listen, it almost feels right, catchy and breezy, light and fluffy, a good summer tune. After three listens I wanted to die – I just couldn’t listen to it anymore. Incapable of coming up with anything original, Jessica and her people pluck melodic bits and pieces from “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, and steals the bulk from Madonna’s “Holiday” (a great song which has already been borrowed from too much.) A tribute is fine, but here Daisy Duke comes on all oh-faced like she doesn’t even know how derivative it all is, and maybe she really doesn’t. Part of me really always wants to give Jessica a chance, a pity thing maybe, but her voice is truly weak and her songs are jaw-droppingly unoriginal. Unlike Ms. Simpson herself, I have a feeling her music career won’t have much legs. Her brainless bimbo act comes off much better on TV than on record. Idea: maybe MTV could get her, Carmen, and Shanna together for a reality show called “The Ex-Wives Club.” Rating 3.5/10
I’d never heard of M Ward at all before the other day when I read that he had recently become the latest signing to 4AD. A bit of research revealed a few releases on Merge, some critical success, a cult following. You know, the usual. Upon first listen, nothing really reached out and grabbed me. Some jangly guitars atop a fairly standard mish-mash of fuzz guitars and plaintive indie-boy voice. Further listens revealed some subtle nuances: a Tom Waits influence, some great moody organ work, a couple early-Cure-ish downers, a bad metal solo or two, some annoyingly country-ish twanginess. However, I can’t help but feeling a little bored with the whole thing. Some of it may grow on me in a Devendra Banhart kind of way, but I have a hunch this album isn’t going to get a lot of spins around here. M Ward does have some impressive songwriting skills, but nothing really rises above average quality for me – it doesn’t say anything to me. It seems like these days you can’t swing a dead goth without hitting a moody 4AD folky-indie-emo singer-songwriter. Red House Painters, Cass McCombs, Mountain Goats, Vinnie Miller – they are all more interesting to me than M Ward. Maybe the music world in general just isn’t as innovative as it once was, but 4AD used to release records that were truly something magic and special. Sadly that’s not the case here. Not bad, just boring. Review: 5.5/10
The Fall: I Am Kurious Oranj (Beggars Banquet, 1987)
“I was a-walking-ah down the street-ah / When I tripped up-ah on a discarded-ah banana peel-ah / And on my way down-ah I caught the side of head-ah / On a protruding-ah brick-ah chip-ah / It was the government’s fault-ah / It was the fault-ah of the government-ah” blathers cantankerous Mark E. Smith on this album’s take on the song “Jerusalem.” It’s one of many out-there moments on a record by a band known for out-there moments. I’ve found that people either “get” The Fall totally or not at all. This album was my entry into their wonderful and frightening world, and admittedly it took me a while to wrap my brain around the plodding, repetitive bass lines, shout-along vocals, and general random oddness. I started picking up other Fall albums over the years. They have literally dozens of releases which are all near impossible to track down, used or new, some are brilliant, others drag, all were beloved by the late great John Peel. However, I keep going back to this album when I get the Fall urge. I really think it encapsulates the bands thick sound in a mighty way, blending straightforward post-rock with some more experimental elements. Plus, it just feels good to shout along loudly to “New Big Prinz" while driving on a hot summer afternoon. Rating: 8/10
Basement Jaxx – Crazy Itch Radio (XL Recordings, 2006)
Kish Kash, the last full-length from these British dance veterans was an amazing record, landing very near the top of my best-of list for 2003. I still put it on all the time. That album was all over the place at once, just pure creative madness with a plethora of kitschy guest singers (JC Chasez, Siouxsie Sioux). While nowhere near as groundbreaking, the hedonistic carnival atmosphere continues on their new album Crazy Itch Radio, which manages to take the Basement Jaxx sound even further over the top. “Intro” opens the disc dramatically with an epic chorus chanting “Basement Jaxx!!!” against filmic staccato strings, immediately pulling us into “Hush Boy”, the first single, a hot cherry pop-tart of a disco dance track, complete with a jazzy Wham!-esque horn section and hyper Brit-rap. These boys aren’t afraid of inventing new genres of dance music and “Take Me Back To Your House” could be called banjo-house. Rather than coming off all hokey like Rednex or something, the banjo sounds almost like a sitar and makes for a middle-eastern vibe. An accordion is mangled seductively in the streets of Rio on “Hey You”, featuring the voice of Swedish pop princess Robyn AND a 30-voice children’s choir from the African nation of Malawi. Phew! “On the Train” memorably uses and abuses the classic jazz melody of “Hit the Road Jack”, while “Run 4 Cover” featuring Lady Marga comes on like Spice Girls after too many crack margaritas, and that’s a good thing. Things come slightly back down to earth for a few moments beginning with “Smoke Bubbles”, a subtly swinging synthpop ditty with R&B overtones and some intense whistling. “Everybody” kicks the dirt back up with a mix of grime and soul. “Keep Keep On” swirls in with a sixties psychedelic lounge sound and closer “U R on My Mind” wraps things up with a dark electro space-out. The between track transitions give an enjoyably movie-like quality to the proceedings, making every track flow together. Like the soundtrack to a very colorful, violent and sexy comic book, this album is an exaggeration of pop music, so full of detail and masterfully produced for maximum fun. Rating 7/10.
Julie London must have caused some serious havoc during the peak of her popularity in the fifties. She was pure sex – her voice dripped with it, filling every nook and cranny of even the most innocent songs with pure sexual innuendo. Never is this more apparent than on her classic take on Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”, which appears here on this fantastic collection of her campiest tunes. The basic message is “Okay, all you hot young boys, you can fuck me all you want, but you can’t have me, I’ve got a rich man waiting for me at home.” What a ho! And that is why we love the old gal so very much. I’d been looking for a good Julie London collection for a while and when I saw the track list for this, I knew it was the one. Although the schmaltzy canned orchestra behind her can be tedious at times, it’s her sultry voice that draws the listener deep inside. From “Come-on-a-My-House” to “It Ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)” to “Nice Girls Don’t Stay For Breakfast”, it’s like a sparkling dish full of a variety of sweet candy, all melted together. Hot, hot, hot! Rating9/10
Scissor Sisters – “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin'” – single (2006, Polydor UK)
Break out your bedazzlers, grrrrls, Scissor Sisters are back with a shot of pure disco fever energy. I’m not exaggerating when I say it is 70’s pop-rock at its most genuine – it sounds like it could sit quite naturally next to “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” on any given K-Tel collection of the original era. I have a feeling this is going to rake some nerves, along with Jake, Ana, Baby Daddy and the rest of the band’s Justice-League-on-coke-meets-the-Brady-Bunch-variety-hour outfits they’ve been wearing lately. I’ve already seen some cruel reviews of this single, but backlash was inevitable, I suppose. Their debut album swept Europe off its feet a few years back and it seems like there was no escape from it in the hipper corners of the US, sneaking out of speakers in trendy shops, salons and gay lounges. I think “Dancing” marks a fine and return, perhaps a bit over the top, but what it lacks in subtlety it makes up for in pure joy and catchiness. The remixes by Paper Faces (okay) and Linus (even better) inject some electro into the formula, dragging the song by the hair into 2006. Rating: 7.5/10
Who would ever guess that on a quiet Sunday night in sleepy little Coeur d’Alene, two gorgeous “ladies” from New York City could transform a dead bar into a riotous, fabulous cabaret? It actually happens several times over the course of the summer, this year at Club Pendulum at 2nd and Indiana. Two male cast members of the CDA Summer Theatre troupe transform into Ms. Vera and Black Diamond and put on one hell of an entertaining drag show.
I was able to attend their performance at the Brix several years ago and was completely staggered by these two girls, along with the rest of the capacity crowd. I’ve seen drag queens perform all over the place, one of the highlights being the “Night of 1,000 Wynonnas” in Seattle, in which every queen in Seattle showed up dressed as the “female Elvis” herself, Wynonna Judd, and spent the evening drunkenly lipsyncing her hits. Needless to say that was a pretty wild night, but Vera and Black Diamond’s performances are above and beyond. When these boys decide to retire from Summer Theatre, they need to take their drag cabaret on the road: they’ll surely be famous!
Quincy and I had heard the show was supposed to get off the ground at , which in drag queen time means the show starts around . Regardless, we decided to get there a little early to get a good table, and when we walked in at 9 on the dot, the place was literally empty. I hadn’t ever ventured into the Pendulum since its opening earlier this year, and I was impressed by the décor choices of black visqueen, red velvet and lesbian erotica. The stage area was lit by black lights and large pieces of dayglo confetti covered the floor. The sound system was so good it made even the most tiresome hip-hop crap sound somehow experimental and fresh.My Seattle friend Kitty was in town so I text-messaged her and she came down to join us. Amazingly, despite living in Seattle for 16 years, she was a drag show virgin. I told her she better hang on for what promised to be wild ride.
It was around when we finally heard the stompitty-stomp of high heels and turned around to see Ms. Vera arriving with her entourage, and Black Diamond with hers. As they ducked into the dressing room, the place quickly began filling up with folks, mainly actors and other theatre mavens, gay men, a few local semi-celebs and a girl with a Mohawk haircut. The place was full by the time Vera sashayed onstage to perform her opening number. She was resplendent in a sequined gold lame cocktail dress (with cocktail in hand, of course), and blonde Carol Brady wig. After letting us know the evening’s theme was Hawaiian (as if just a drag show wasn’t enough so they had to come up with a theme) she did a hilarious monologue that had everyone nearly rolling on the floor. Black Diamond took the stage looking soooo 1987 in skintight electric blue spandex and performed a hard-rockin’ Lita Ford (I think) number with wild abandon. Next, Vera hosted a contest, for which she brought up 3 boys on to the stage and announced she hadn’t made up the rules yet, just wanted to get some boys up there to ogle. She improvised a “Hawaiian Dance contest” in which the wildest dancer (and they certainly all were) won tickets to a performance of “The King and I.” It ended in a three-way tie.
For the rest of the show, the girls took turns performing while the other hit the dressing room and gave herself a totally new, different look. Performance highlights included the wildly shrieky "Tipping Song” in which they worked the crowd for currency while attempting to lipsync to the craziest Ricky-Ricardo-on-Acid music ever recorded. Ms. Vera never strayed too far from tradition, giving passionate renderings of Ethel Merman’s “I’ve Gotta Be Me’ and Barbara Streisand’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” Black Diamond wasn’t afraid to perform some edgier material, including “The Stuff” from Reefer Madness: The Musical, which had me laughing so hard, loss of bladder control nearly occurred. She wore a torn negligee and a fried black wig, messed up make up and a few token bruises. She came out puffing on a funny little ciggie as she mouthed the lyrics:“He throws me down the stairs / But deep inside he cares / He buys me lingerie / …and the Stuff.” It was high camp at its finest. (I’ve posted a version of this insane song below for your enjoyment.) After a huge round of applause the audience demanded an encore and got its wishes when the ladies returned to perform the ever popular “Popular.”
The show was over and most of the theatre crowd immediately disappeared, although Vera and Black Diamond did mingle for a few minutes before sneaking down to the Shore Lounge for karaoke and to wreak havoc at the CDA Resort. The dance music kicked back in and the rest of the evening was a bit of a blur, to be honest. Overall, I was again impressed at the serious talent of these two drag queens. They were able to bring the house down make and the whole audience laugh with just a facial expression or a one-liner. They are spectacular entertainers and we are very lucky to have them perform in our town. Apparently, they are doing one more show at The Pendulum this month before returning to the Big Apple for the winter, and I will post here when I find out the date…
For those who were unable to attend, I wanted to recap Sunday's events:
Byron’s memorial celebration was held Sunday, July 30 at Mik-n-Mac’s Lounge in Coeur d’Alene. Despite some stressful moments during the week of planning for the gathering, everything turned out truly beautiful. About 150 people filled the bar, which was decorated tastefully with white silk tablecloths and large flower arrangements on each table. All house lights in the place were dim, and dozens of lit candles created a somberly welcoming atmosphere. At the bottom of the stairs near the entry was a huge tree tied with envelopes to be filled with donations for the family to cover expenses. A large portrait of Byron sat on a table next to the tree, along with a framed newspaper clipping of his obituary and some handouts for the guests featuring his photo and a sentimental poem. A pool table had been covered in white silk and fresh flowers and became a makeshift shrine where everyone could put out the Byron photos they had brought. It was a bit surreal – the hushed voices and quiet music was a sharp contrast to the usual cacophony that fills this place when filled with so many people.
Once all the family and friends were gathered, the ceremony began with a few emotional words from Byron’s visibly choked-up friend Tobias, who eloquently summed up Byron’s many endearing qualities and reminded everyone of their huge loss. He handed the microphone over to Byron’s sister who lightened up the atmosphere for a moment with a funny story that she said would always stick with her: Every year her and Byron would try to come up with the most outrageous prank to pull on each other for April Fools Day. One year she was very pregnant and worked with him at Regis. So, she poured a puddle of water on the floor in the break room, crouched herself over it, and waited for Byron. When he walked in she calmly spoke: “Oh…I think my water broke.” Byron began panicking wildly: “What do we do? What do we do?” His sister yawned and shrugged and said “I dunno, whatever…” So he ran out and told the other stylists (who, of course, were all in on the joke) what was going on, just freaking out. They all yawned and shrugged and said “whatever” as well, like he was overreacting to nothing. The head stylist told him to tell his sister to get out on the floor and get to work, that it was too busy for her to leave. Of course, Byron’s jaw dropped in disbelief, and when he went back to the break room ready to kidnap his sister and take her to the ER, she told him he’d been “punked.” He told her that was it, that she had won the April Fools contest forever and that he would never be able to prank her as good.
That story cracked everyone up and really seemed to summarize Byron: his charming gullibility, and his willingness to drop everything and help someone in need. His sister then sang a folksy version of the rock chestnut “Freebird.” Her voice was really marvelous, and the lyrics took on a new meaning, leaving not a single dry eye in the house. Thankfully, Quincy ran up for more napkins, which we rapidly sniffled our way through. Once again, Tobias spoke, and read several well-written and quite religious poems before singing an acapella version of a spiritual song he had composed. Toby has an excellent soulful voice, and once again the tear ducts kicked into heavy flow action. Next up was a video presentation that Tobias had put together, which was projected onto a huge, floor-to-ceiling screen that had been set up on the dance floor. The photo montage was very well done and was put with an upbeat dance tune titled “Butterfly.” A few of the photos of Byron provided for some needed laughter, including some of his famous self-designed Halloween costumes, and a few shots if him in full drag. After a round of applause for the presentation, the audience was asked to come up and tell some good Byron stories. His ex-roomate Matt spoke for quite a while and had some really great things to say about Byron’s talent for hair, his love of the water, and the time some hag pushed him off the dance podium and he responded in kind by bumping her off with his dancing booty. Cindy came up and told about the time they went fishing together and how he had amazing luck, hooking a fish in seconds flat, while she caught nothing. Shawnya talked about how meticulous he was about doing hair, even pre-folding dozens of foil sheets saying “I just want everything to be perfect!” It was also Shawnya, god bless ‘er, who finally mentioned, in her words: “Those god-awful penny loafers he always wore,” to the laughter and applause of a better part of the audience. Oddly, none of the family spoke, preferring to remain a bit anonymous and mum. The main ceremony closed with the suggestion that we should spend the rest of the day celebrating Byron’s life how he would have wanted us to: dancing and drinking.
With that, the house lights came up and DJ Jason began an excellent set of dance music that would have kept Byron gyrating on the floor for hours. He loved dancing and he was one of the few white boys with any kind of dance flair. As everyone rushed for a cocktail, Christa began handing out helium balloons and markers for a memorial balloon release. After a moment of thought, I wrote “Byron – Make heaven sassy!” and everyone headed up to the parking lot. At the count of three we let the balloons go and watched as they floated up and away into the blue sky. It was an emotional moment as many in the crowd wept uncontrollably as the balloon disappeared from view. Even after they had long gone from view, people stood in silence and stared into the sky. Slowly, we began drifting back into the bar.
The celebration phase began with the christening of a new drink, the Penny Loafer (thanks, Tracy) which managed to combine Byron’s two favorites (Jolly Ranchers and Surfers of Acid) into a shot. The crowd began to relax and mingle a bit. Food wise, the usual suspects sat out on the buddy bar: Meat and cheese trays, Veggie trays, Albertsons cookies. Whoever brought the mini-quiches should have made a double batch – they were tasty and disappeared in seconds. Quincy won points with his home-made cherry cheesecake. It was good to see some folks I hadn’t talked to in ages, but it’s always too bad that it takes a tragedy to bring everyone together. The family drifted off, and the crowd dwindled down to the core party crowd. Great conversations and stiff drinks flowed, and a few of us decided to regroup at my house and get ready for the drag show later that night. Overall, it was a wonderful day, everyone in the place really seemed to be on the same emotional wavelength and it was therapeutic for people to get together to cry and laugh and send Byron out how he would have liked: with a bang.