Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Chill Factor: ABC Executives Censor Robin Williams on Oscar Night

According to The New York Times and a number of other news sources, ABC executives have forced comedian and actor Robin Williams to abandon plans to perform a song making light of James C. Dobson’s (the President and CEO of Focus on the Family, a conservative non-profit organization) efforts to label a children’s cartoon – the popular SpongeBob SquarePants – as “pro-homosexual” for appearing in a video promoting tolerance.

CBS News reports:

The song included the lines:

"Pinocchio's had his nose done! Sleeping Beauty is popping pills! The Three Little Pigs ain't kosher! Betty Boop works Beverly Hills!"

"Fred Flintstone is dyslexic, Jessica Rabbit is really a man, Olive Oyl is really anorexic, and Casper is in the Ku Klux Klan!"

Other objectionable lines included, "Chip 'n Dale are both strippers," "Bugs Bunny's a sexaholic," and "Josie and the Pussycats dance on laps."

ABC’s decision showcases a continuation of the conservative backlash stemming from Janet Jackson’s unfortunate breast “accident” during the Super Bowl halftime show a few years ago. Stepped up and arbitrary fines by the FCC – largely targeted at radio broadcaster and self-appointed King of All Media Howard Stern – have had a trickle-down chilling effect across all broadcast media in terms of creativity and content.

When performers and artists are stripped of the ability to be risky and edgy and risqué, a decline in creativity and quality art is the natural result, to the detriment of us all. Certainly there should be some reasonable standards of decency – particularly for shows aimed toward families – but the line has been continually blurred and spilled over under the Bush Administration, propelled onward relentlessly by conservative organizations and activists like James C. Dobson and his Focus on the Family.

The inability to lampoon the very forces that are fueling the engine of censorship in the United States is disturbing indeed.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

DB Up in Your Ear: Coachella 2005 Primer Part I (Check It)

This year’s 2005 Coachella Valley Music Festival, set to take place on April 30 and May 1 way out east of Los Angeles in the California desert, is shaping up as an intriguing mix of big name rock bands, back-from-the-dead reunion acts, and cult fan indie credsters. This year’s Coachella doesn’t have quite the crackle-and-pop as 2004’s triumphant return of the Pixies, but the recent announcement that Cocteau Twins will be performing is intriguing indeed (and who knows, there’s still plenty of time for more “surprise” press releases).

Here’s a primer on some of the bands that are lined up to perform on the first of the two dates, Saturday, April 30.

Weezer is reason enough to pay the money and haul bottom down to Coachella. A great mix of hard rock, self-conscious pop, and deliciously witty lyricism, Weezer has settled into that perfect level of popularity – just under the radar of the burn-out knock-down-the-doors media maelstrom – where they will continue (we hope) to pump out challenging, interesting, rocking albums for many years to come.

As one of the most popular groups to emerge in the post-grunge alternative rock aftermath, Weezer received equal amounts of criticism and praise for their hook-heavy guitar pop. Drawing from the heavy power pop of arena rockers like Cheap Trick and the angular guitar leads of the Pixies, Weezer leavened their melodies with doses of '70s metal learned from bands like Kiss. But what set the band apart was their geekiness. None of the members of Weezer, especially leader Rivers Cuomo, were conventional rockers -- they were kids that holed up in their garage, playing along with their favorite records when they weren't studying or watching TV. As a result, their music was infused with a quirky sense of humor and an endearing awkwardness that made songs like "Undone (The Sweater Song)," "Buddy Holly," and "Say It Ain't So" into big modern rock hits during 1994 and 1995.

To my ears, Coldplay is a delicate mix of Blur and Oasis having a mellow day. I actually dismissed them for some time as yet another in a flurry of radio-ready ballet-rockers, but a closer inspection revealed real musical chops, real rock-pop sensibility.

Brit-pop darlings Coldplay never intended to become England's favorite rock & roll sons when their signature rock melodies ruled the charts throughout 2000. The Brit-rock quartet -- composed of Chris Martin (vocals/piano), Jon Buckland (guitar), Will Champion (drums), and Guy Berryman (bass) -- yearned to mess around a bit, plucking their own acoustics for fun while attending the University College of London. All had been playing instruments since their early teens and had been influenced by the likes of Bob Dylan, the Stone Roses, Neil Young, and My Bloody Valentine.

They never imagined taking reign of the U.K.'s ever-changing rock scene.

I only just heard of Bauhaus recently and I must admit I’m upset I hadn’t checked them out sooner. They’re pretty great.

Bauhaus are the founding fathers of goth rock, creating a minimalistic, overbearingly gloomy style of post-punk rock driven by jagged guitar chords and cold, distant synthesizers. Throughout their brief career, the band explored all the variations on their bleak musical ideas, adding elements of glam rock, experimental electronic rock, funk, and heavy metal. While their following has never expanded beyond a cult, they kept their cult alive well into the '90s, a full decade after they disbanded.

I must disagree from the above description in that I find a good deal of their music less “bleak” than driving-downbeat, a significant difference. It works as rock, it works as goth, it works as new wave: a pretty kick-ass combo to pull off.

Cocteau Twins

A group whose distinctly ethereal and gossamer sound virtually defined the enigmatic image of the record label 4AD, the Cocteau Twins were founded in Grangemouth, Scotland, in 1979. Taking their name from an obscure song from fellow Scots Simple Minds, the Cocteaus were originally formed by guitarist Robin Guthrie and bassist Will Heggie and later rounded out by Guthrie's girlfriend Elizabeth Fraser, an utterly unique performer whose swooping, operatic vocals relied less on any recognizable language than on the subjective sounds and textures of verbalized emotions.

And from">’s Eric Olsen:

The almost impossibly elegant and ethereal Scottish trio Cocteau Twins are reuniting for the Coachella Valley Music Festival on Saturday, April 30 (joining the similarly reforming Bauhaus, and in the wake of last year's incredibly successful Pixies re-amalgamation).

Producer John Fryer Fryer (Head Over Heels, Sunburst, Snowblind) described the essence of the band's sound to me in a phone conversation. “It was drum machines that sound like drum machines - not trying to make them sound too real - and very lush processed guitars. Basically it’s just a distortion pedal, long delays, long reverb, and you make the whole thing float.”

It did, and now it will again.

The Chemical Brothers
To me, The Chemical Brothers is electronica for people who don’t like electronica. It’s driving, hard music with a beat, so I suspect that I’m not the only rock fan that got turned onto their unique blend of techno, hip hop, and rock stylings.

The act with the first arena-sized sound in the electronica movement, the Chemical Brothers united such varying influences as Public Enemy, Cabaret Voltaire, and My Bloody Valentine to create a dance-rock-rap fusion which rivaled the best old-school DJs on their own terms -- keeping a crowd of people on the floor by working through any number of groove-oriented styles featuring unmissable samples, from familiar guitar riffs to vocal tags to various sound effects. And when the duo (Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons) decided to supplement their DJ careers by turning their bedrooms into recording studios, they pioneered a style of music (later termed big beat) remarkable for its lack of energy loss from the dancefloor to the radio. Chemical Brothers albums were less collections of songs and more hourlong journeys, chock full of deep bomb-studded beats, percussive breakdowns, and effects borrowed from a host of sources. All in all, the duo proved one of the few exceptions to the rule that intelligent dance music could never be bombastic or truly satisfying to the seasoned rock fan; it's hardly surprising that they were one of the few dance acts to enjoy simultaneous success in the British/American mainstream and in critical quarters.

These guys are alt-country with serious chops. Much has been written and discussed about Wilco over the last several years, so I’ll only add that they’re a difficult band to turn off once you get into a good Wilco groove: early morning chilling, ruminating afternoon drive, late-night contemplative musing.

Wilco rose from the ashes of the seminal roots rockers Uncle Tupelo, who disbanded in 1994. While Jay Farrar, one of the group's two singer/songwriters, went on to form the band Son Volt, his ex-partner Jeff Tweedy established Wilco along with the remaining members of Tupelo's final incarnation, which included drummer Ken Coomer as well as part-time bandmates John Stirratt (bass) and Max Johnston (mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and lap steel). Guitarist Jay Bennett rounded out the group.

Keane’s a little too pop for my taste and the singer’s a bit high-pitched, but… well, there it is.

Tom Chaplin (vocals), Richard Hughes (drums), and Tim Rice-Oxley (piano) are childhood friends from Battle, East Sussex, England who make up the merry pop sounds of Keane. Formed in 1997 while each were attending college, Keane initially started out as a cover band. They played Oasis, U2 and Beatles songs in and around Sussex.

Snow Patrol
These guys will add a seriously needed punch of well-crafted rock into Coachella’s opening day festivities. This polished (and possibly Weezer influenced?) alt-rock act is one of the more intriguing bands to look out for.

Featuring thrilling fuses of alternative pop/rock's most intensified marks, Snow Patrol's compositions combine songwriting aptitude with guitar rock's sharpest strains. Gary Lightbody (vocals, guitar), Mark McClelland (bass, keyboards), and John Quinn (drums) embodied the Northern Irish three-piece that started off as a duo.

The Secret Machines
Good old fashioned fuzzy alternative rock and roll, and good stuff at that.

Revealing a sharp songwriting instinct and unfolding a distinct indie rock influence, the Secret Machines unveil singular scenarios and refined tunes within the alternative pop/rock scene. Drummer Benjamin Curtis, Josh Garza, and Brandon Curtis (vocals, bass) formed the Secret Machines in the midst of summer of 2000, in Dallas, TX.

DB Note: Check us out soon for Part II, where you’ll get a goodly run-down on bands taking the stage for Coachella’s second night, Sunday, May 1.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

DB Film Squad: The Cusack-Piven Theory

Actors John Cusack and Jeremy Piven have been friends for many years. But an in-depth study of their film careers exposes an alarming trend:

They’ve appeared in at least seven films together.

Why hasn’t this fact been exposed and rooted out before now? I leave it to you, dear reader, to decide.


One Crazy Summer (1986)

Cusack’s in early career wacky romantic comedy lead mode. Piven plays a pissed off blue blood asshole, and friend to the blond haired dude who was the bad guy (Karate Kid I – VIII, Just One of the Guys) in every 80s comedy.

Say Anything (1989)

Quintessential tale of late 80s teens searching for love and the meaning of life. More importantly, Cusack and Piven make physical contact during the pivotal “key master” sequence. “You must chill! You must chill!” Cusack advices Piven. Indeed.

The Grifters (1990)

Dark noir crime drama. Cusack plays the lead and gets his throat (accidentally?) sliced open by moms, played by Anjelica Huston. I have no idea what Piven did in this film… was that the grift?

Bob Roberts (1992)

A classic dead-pan political comedy. Unfortunately, I can’t remember much about it except this: Cusack and Piven were both in it. Grift and intrigue afoot, no?

Gross Pointe Blank (1997)

Great black comedy featuring Cusack and a right smart looking Minnie Driver. More importantly: the intense reunion between long-time “friends” Cusack and Piven. “Ten years it’s been! Ten years!” Piven intones. What’s he really trying to tell Cusack here, and the rest of us?

Serendipity (2001)
More romantic comedy, this time 21st Century style. Cusack and Piven have perhaps the most screen time they’ve ever had. They rap about philosophy, love, and life. Piven is subdued, even whimsical throughout.

Is this where we can set our watch and warrant on the Cusack-Piven Theory? Is this the point where we get under our desks, interlace our fingers together, place them overhead, and rock slowly and gently back-and-forth, mumbling the tune from Bridge On the River Kwai (a Piven-Cusack-less film… or is it?).

No. We must press on.

Runaway Jury (2003)
John Grisham and dirty dealings. Runaway… but from what?

Is it madness, folly, or the search down the wormhole of meaninglessness, existence, and the power of finely written, deftly acted, modest box office fare in the lives of everyday souls wandering this Earth in search of the grains of filtered, finely ground sand to make it all worthwhile, tangible, terra firma?

In other words:

What is your take on the Cusack-Piven Theory?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

DB on TV: Buffy’s Lost Connection

For fans of innovative, story-arc driven, genre blending television, there’s little argument that the two biggest names of the last decade are Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams. It’s a lamentable fact indeed that with the cancellation of both Firefly and Angel, Whedon has finally been driven off the idiot box (though into the open embrace of film, where he has been quite busy, especially in helming Serenity, Firefly’s transition to the silver screen, due to release this Fall).

Which leaves us with Wednesday nights as Abrams night on ABC with Lost and Alias now airing back-to-back.

For fans of both Whedon and Abrams, there is an intriguing trend of Whedon’s people making their way into the exotic world of Lost.

Exhibit A: Daniel Dae Kim, who plays the stoic Korean character Jin on Lost, also played recurring character Gavin Park on Angel. It should be noted that Kim shows surprising range between the two shows, as Gavin was a suck up lawyer working for the evilest law firm this side of hell (Wolfram & Hart) whereas Jin says little but emotes much through his frustrated, passive-aggressive actions and expressions.

Exhibit B: Drew Goddard. Who the hell is Drew Goddard?

Goddard, a simply marvelous writer, now spans the Whedon-Abrams divide by writing for both Alias and Lost. Goddard wrote some of the best episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (“Conversations with Dead People”) and Angel, and was responsible for last week’s episode of Lost, which was really an extraordinary hour of television (Sawyer’s abuse-revenge complex, Sawyer and Kate get strangely cozy, Sawyer has a run-in with Jack’s father at a flashback Aussie bar).

The episode stands out because there’s an emerging mystic/spiritual undertone beginning to take shape from Lost, a feeling that everything adds up to far more than the sum of its parts. There’s the sense that the characters were either summoned or drawn or forced onto the island by an outside force. Each character is deeply lost in some fundamental way, and the purgatory of the island (literally?) will test them, resulting in salvation, death, redemption, or madness.

Sawyer and Locke and Jack and Charlie and Claire and Kate are becoming unique and fascinating characters, part of a genre-mixed show of action and characters both.

DB Note: Check out a fairly well written episode guide here if you’ve missed some episodes, like me. Just don’t miss any more!

Monday, February 21, 2005


By now, just about everyone knows that Hunter S. Thompson, gonzo writer, anarchic spirit, and New Journalism pioneer, committed suicide over the weekend (though I far prefer the Brit slang snuffed it, myself).

I won’t get into the suicide, because I’m frankly not very interested. I’m interested in the work and the legacy.

Hunter S. Thompson is a profoundly influential writer (to me at least).The blending of fiction and non-fiction, the personal and objective, the mind-reeling spiral of the senses, the sense of weary confusion at an unyielding world – all a wonderfully chaotic spiral of the senses. He took us to new places, and that’s a rare and wonderful gift.

I place Thompson, Tom Wolfe, and Jack Kerouac in that special pantheon of writers, strange/wise minds for strange days. Creative non-fiction pioneers out of the groaning mid-20th Century in America. I place these three writers among the most influential for me as a writer and the way in which I view the world.

I'm sad that Thompson is gone, but there's a lot of great things, great stories, great moments to remember and hold onto.

I found HST's ESPN column –- a position he held up until his unnatural death — to be one of the best and looniest sorta-best-kept-secrets on the Net. Each piece was a loopy ride, and I tried to read it whenever I got the chance.

I don't think the film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas did HST as Writer justice. Johnny Depp looked great and the performances were neat/disturbing, but I found the experience like the ickiest dope trip I never took. There was very little of the manic energy turned hilarious freaked out aside-rich turbulent word-storm that comes across in HST's best passages.

Maybe, if we're lucky, HST's death will remind us what journalism is at its best, what writing is at its best, what creative non-fiction is at its best.

Thompson may be gone, but his writing will remain and remind and live on.

Great writer, I pay tribute to thee.

DB Note: For much more blogging action related to HST, check out our sister station,

Friday, February 18, 2005

Keeping It Real Politik: Krugman, Dean, & The Fighting Moderates

An outstanding editorial from outstanding New York Times columnist Paul Krugman may help to frame Howard Dean’s term as DNC, and more than that, it may set the Democrats' course out of the woods and back to power.

Think two words: Fighting Moderates.

”The Republicans know the America they want, and they are not afraid to use any means to get there," Howard Dean said in accepting the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. "But there is something that this administration and the Republican Party are very afraid of. It is that we may actually begin fighting for what we believe."

Those words tell us what the selection of Mr. Dean means. It doesn't represent a turn to the left: Mr. Dean is squarely in the center of his party on issues like health care and national defense. Instead, Mr. Dean's political rejuvenation reflects the new ascendancy within the party of fighting moderates, the Democrats who believe that they must defend their principles aggressively against the right-wing radicals who have taken over Congress and the White House.

I disagree with the premise that the Democratic Party must move rightward to survive. It's been lurching right for years and has seen steady losses in recent years for it. Everyone says that the Dems must "stand for something." Moving rightward seems more like a capitulation than a stand.

It was always absurd to call Mr. Dean a left-winger. Just ask the real left-wingers. During his presidential campaign, an article in the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch denounced him as a "Clintonesque Republicrat," someone who, as governor, tried "to balance the budget, even though Vermont is a state in which a balanced budget is not required."

Even on Iraq, many moderates, including moderate Republicans, quietly shared Mr. Dean's misgivings - which have been fully vindicated - about the march to war.

Finally, we have someone who can bolster Dean’s right as a politician and U.S. citizen to take a rational position without being shouted down with inane – and untruthful – labels.

For a while, Mr. Dean will be the public face of the Democrats, and the Republicans will try to portray him as the leftist he isn't. But Deanism isn't about turning to the left: it's about making a stand.

This is a point that I have been making for weeks, though not as eloquently as Mr. Krugman does here. Dean’s legacy for the Democrats will be that he revived his party’s voice and backbone. He did this in the dark days of 2003 and he will do so again in 2005 and 2006.

That’s why Dean is perfect as DNC, better than anyone else at this moment in time. He’s a fighting moderate in a neocon / social conservative age, and he has the gumption and smarts to lead his party – and the perhaps the nation – to a better, more rational, and stronger place.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Keeping It Real Politik: Long-term Trends, Long-term Hope for Dems?

Howard Dean, the new Democratic National Chairman, inspires grassroots support and brings new people into the democratic process. He has been innovative in the use of technology, raising money, and political organization -- all vital parts of the DNC position. Further, he was a successful Chairman of the Democratic Governors Association when he was the Gov of Vermont.

I think Howard Dean will do a great job as DNC. But the overall situation points out that the Dems really can't do much worse than they have over the last six years (dating to the '98 midterm elections) and trends show they're likely to make gains in the future.

The not-so-secret secret is that the Democrats are about as down right now as it is possible for them to be. They've already been nearly knocked out of the South (outside of highly urban areas) and redistricting in places like Texas have now taken all the toll intended.

Now the good news: immigration patterns, demographics, and population growth foretell Democratic success in the future, not failure.

In presidential politics, the GOP may hold a nearly unbreakable base in the Mountain West and South at the moment, but the Dems have a solidifying blue hold on the Northeast, West coast, and important states like Illinois and Michigan. Not so long ago, California and Illinois were considered battleground states, but no longer.

Add to that recent Democratic victories in bright red states such as Kansas, Montana, and the not as red Arizona, and the long-term outlook becomes very interesting. In fact, it's quite possible that the Southwest could become a major battleground in '08 and beyond. The Midwest has kind of settled into Michigan/Illinois for Dems, Ohio/Indiana for the GOP, with Wisconsin and perhaps even Minnesota as the remaining battlegrounds there.

A tiny shift in voting in the Southwest -- say, if Arizona and Nevada shift firmly blue, let's say -- the entire national picture is altered dramatically.

DB Up in Your Ear: The Clash

Really cool tribute to The Clash's dearly departed Joe Strummer over on our sister station, Got me to thinking about one of my very favorite punk bands.

The Clash are the essential punk band. They proved what could be done with the form, how it could evolve and mix with a host of musical styles. They provided a real message and real emotion to go along with the music, not just a nihilistic screed that was sure to burn bright and subsequently burn out. They helped to spur on a generation in which it could be cool to take an intelligent stand during a rock song.

It's thus that The Clash is really such a large influence on so much of modern music: from Green Day to Rancid to Rage Against the Machine (and so many others). I think they are that kind of rare breed -- along with the likes of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, the Velvet Underground, and a finite number of others -- that are both popular and massively influential on younger generations of musicians and music appreciators alike.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Little Ball? Yes, yes y’all

This just in: you can now buy a ball that can observe, attack, and generally scare the living bejeezus out of people.

A large black ball, originally designed by Swedish scientists for use on Mars, could be the latest weapon in the war against burglars.

The device, developed at the University of Uppsala, acts as a high-tech security guard capable of detecting an intruder thanks to either radar or infra-red sensors. Once alerted, it can summon help, sound an alarm or pursue the intruders, taking pictures.

It is capable of traveling at 20mph, somewhat faster than a human being. Even worse for intruders, the robot ball can still give chase over mud, snow and water.

While the current version can only raise the alarm, it could be adapted to corner an intruder if the customer wanted…
For some reason, this particular advance in technology creeps me out more than the idea of cloning (Raelians and all), bioterror, or even being forced to sit through the Coming Attractions on rented DVDs. And it really reminds me of the cult classic British show, The Prisoner, in which Patrick McGoohan is a spy trapped in the unsettling/cheery/psychedelic prison called The Island. Those creepy undulating white blobs (well, they looked kind of like blown up sheets – but the music was whacko!) would track down escapees and subdue them with idiot force and blind delight.

That’s when the reconditioning would begin.

See where this is going?

Monday, February 14, 2005

DB Reviews: Tribeca - Incident at the Metropolis

I have friends who grew up listening to Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac and The Carpenters and Carly Simon and Neil Diamond. I’m not one of those guys.

I grew up on The Doors and Zeppelin and Cream and later graduated to The Clash and Mighty Mighty Boss Tones and Nirvana and Fastbacks and Garage Rock ‘till your ears bleed, with a little REM and Beta Band and Radiohead thrown in when I want to kick it back a notch.

I ranked The Hives’ Tyrannosaurus Hives as the Dumpster Bust’s 2004 Album of the Year. Just to give you an idea where I’m at musically.

I'm starting to receive free shit to review as a blogger and writer, which is super cool. We come thence to Tribeca, which is described thusly:

Dip your toes in Steely Dan-ish ecstacy whilst imagining Joe Jackson recording his version of Aja...

I don’t really know that means, and to be honest, listening to Incident at the Metropolis didn’t help very much. To my battle scarred ears, it ranges between polished yet hookless groove lounge and out-and-out cheese.

So I’m kind of caught in a situation that something I can't subscribe to – something that’s “not my scene” as we used to say back in the day – might very well be someone else’s scene.

Tough one for me to review, in other words.

There’s a great deal of laid back groove to wade through here, and sometimes it’s so laid back that it’s hard to find, as on “Huepnica,” the opening track. “North American Laundromat” picks up the pace and the beat a little bit and adds in some much needed vocals, which elevates it clearly as the best song on the album. There’s potential here for laid back 70s inflected American groove here, but for me – a guy who lives for hooks and beat – it just never pays off. “North American Laundromat” goes to show how talented a band like Jamiroquai really is: they pull off 70s disco and flair and beat and panache without sounding like retreads or satirists.

“Valuable Feelings” makes me want to run for the razors and warm bathtub, and “Monument” sounds like a repeat of same (it took me a little while to figure out that they were, in fact, different songs). “Two Days After” is a quiet rumination that sort of pitter pats along and “People Need to Know” and “Start from Nothing” are goes at 70s country rock.

“Popular Summer,” the final track, is the only song that seems to achieve an original 70s vibe, but one that most people would skip right past on their radio dial.

I qualify all of my comments with the fact that this album was likely never meant for the likes of me, which does nothing to change the fact that me no likey.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

DB on TV: What the hell is wrong with Fox Television?

First Firefly. Then Wonderfalls.

Now Arrested Development?

To quote the blond chick who buys it in the original Matrix flick: No, not like this… Not like this.

Did Fox lose all confidence in “Arrested Development”…? As far as I know, Fox has not formally pulled the plug on “Arrested,” and has at least till mid-May to decide if the comedy will turn up on its 2005-06 slate. Still, giving the borrible “American Dad” its timeslot for May sweeps? Not the best sign.

Keep in mind, this is rumor-central at this point: nothing official has happened, and nothing may be coming down the pike.

But I’m starting to think that Satan himself may be running Fox these days, teasing the foolish mortals with brilliant television, only to cancel the darlings of our nights before our very teary eyes, crushed souls to wander this plane broken and wasted, shattered bodies that had known light only to… okay, you get the idea.

Arrested Development is an absolutely brilliant comedy, the best thing to come to network television since Seinfeld. To not recognize that scientific bloody fact is… miraculous. (Or miraculously evil? I’ll leave it to you, Trusty Reader, to decide.)

I would argue, in fact, that Arrested Development represents the best in American comedy whereas the equally brilliant (and deranged) The Office represents the best of the BritCom. Arrested Development is minute-by-minute, laugh out loud funny. Its characters are unique and manically cynical, over-the-top bizarre (a recent episode in which Buster Bluth skips out on Basic Training to obsess over the Crane Game at the bus station had me rolling for days) and the writing is even better. Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth does a masterful job as the only nearly sane character and anchors a truly remarkable cast that includes Jeffrey Tambor (who plays two roles), Jessica Walter, the lights out talented David Cross, and Tony Hale, who plays the aforementioned Buster.

Please, please Fox, don’t do this. Firefly was resurrected on the strength of its DVD sales (after Fox aired about nine episodes completely out of order before canceling it mercilessly) into the most anticipated movie of the year (okay… for me, anyway): Serenity.

Not like this. Not like this…

Saturday, February 12, 2005


What is or who are W.O.M.B.A.T.S.?

Apparently, it's not the Women's Mountain Bike & Tea Society, which is a different W.O.M.B.A.T.S. entirely.

But the big question is: will 2005 be the year of W.O.M.B.A.T.S.?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

DB Reviews: Internet Archive’s Live Music Archive

There’s an oddball little corner of the Internet that houses a large and growing number of live concert recordings that are absolutely free and available to download by you and me. It’s part of the Internet Archive, where you can also find all manner of open source books, free films, and tons of other, well, stuff.

It’s like a cool-ass thrift store: if you don’t come in with an exact idea of what you want and have a little patience and sense of adventure, you’ll come away into the harsh light of the afternoon with a bunch of “jewels” that were liberated from sitting sad and lonesome in someone’s dusty (e-)attic for years.

There’s several hundred bands to choose from, listed in long and eye-glazing alphabetical order. There are bands that most people have never heard of (Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, Al and the Transamericans), bands that have strong cult followings (The Toasters, Southern Culture on the Skids), and a couple of tried and true powerhouses (Grateful Dead).

A number alongside each band tells you how many live recordings you have to choose from. There’s a surprisingly large number, with the Dead topping out at a whopping 2,777 performances. Click on the band of your choice and you’re whisked off to an area that shows you the concerts you have to choose from and provides links to the band’s homepage and any notes on policy and usage that the band might have included.

Once you click on a show you’d like to download, you’re taken to a page with a bewildering number of links that let you download the show in different formats. Don’t panic though: I was able to get through the morass by choosing shows with .mp3 extension, so that might be the safe way to go for you.

Each band has a “batting average” that shows the percentage of people who downloaded a show after visiting the band’s page. There are also user comments for some bands, such as one for The Toasters’ page that states, "The Toasters placed a high energy and solid set and I'm VERY pleased with how the recording came out."

DB Jewel: My jewel came in the form of finding a live set by Chucklehead, a band I used to catch during my earliest going on in New York City days. Great funk, great party music, great fun. I mean, you don’t get any better than rhyming Uncle Sam with God Damn, right?

The Live Music Archive is definitely worth a check out for lovers of live (and free!) music.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Keeping It Real Politik: Uniquely American

Drudge Report reported the following exchange between President Bush and Mary Mornin, an "ordinary citizen," during an "unscripted moment":

Last Friday when promoting social security reform with 'regular' citizens in Omaha, Nebraska, President Bush walked into an awkward unscripted moment in which he stated that carrying three jobs at a time is 'uniquely American.'

While talking with audience participants, the president met Mary Mornin, a woman in her late fifties who told the president she was a divorced mother of three, including a 'mentally challenged' son.

The President comforted Mornin on the security of social security stating that 'the promises made will be kept by the government.'

But without prompting Mornin began to elaborate on her life circumstances.

Begin transcript:

MS. MORNIN: That's good, because I work three jobs and I feel like I contribute.

THE PRESIDENT: You work three jobs?

MS. MORNIN: Three jobs, yes.

THE PRESIDENT: Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)

This is a light moment that, unfortunately, is really not so light. It highlights a President who is "folksy" but obviously isn't really in touch with real folk. It highlights a President who seems to think that working three jobs is some kind of showcase of character and, by extension, a good thing.

American. Uniquely American.

Not a lot of talk about how to transform people's lives to make them less... unique?

Monday, February 07, 2005

Keeping It Real Politik: Five Minutes After the Speech

I’ll admit it: occasionally I watch C-SPAN. Indeed, sometimes I use it as a cure for insomnia, but every now and then there’s a good program or series on, such as the ’04 presidential campaign’s Road to the White House, where party hopefuls made their cases in relatively intimate surroundings.

One of the best parts of these speeches or town hall meetings are the five or so minutes after it’s ostensibly over. C-SPAN has a tendency to let the cameras roll as the candidate or speaker meets and greets supporters. One on level, it’s hardly newsworthy and largely banal: kind words thrown out by star-struck supporters, photos and autographs flashed and slashed, invitations of support “down the road.” On another, it’s a fascinating insight into what it takes to be a big-time politician in the United States.

John Edwards gave a very good speech last night (I had C-SPAN on in the background as I did some work – a cool-down from the frenzy of the Super Bowl if you will) that updated and amplified his Two Americas stump speech. As I watched the post-speech five minutes, I noticed how poised, how energetic, how on Edwards was. He radiated political stardom, and everyone in the room wanted to gather round him for but a small moment to bask in his warm light.

It made me realize that to be very successful in the politics game – particularly on the national level – you have to have a genuine affection for people. On top of that, you need burning ambition, lights out smarts, a need for the spotlight, and, just maybe, a desire for public service.

I started thinking about movies that expertly look at the political process, such as The Candidate, with Robert Redford, and Primary Colors, with John Travolta. They’re really a look beyond the five minutes, after the cameras are turned off, and the candidates “start getting real,” as the saying goes.

There’s a lot to be learned from those five minutes, though. The look of the eyes, the grasp of the handshake, the eagerness to stand in for one more picture.

Edwards had it, had it all last night. His speech was successful, but he sealed the evening with his performance during the five minutes after.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Finally: More Football for the Proletariat?

I found a very brief quote in the New York Daily News that immediately perked up my interest:

[NFL Commissioner Paul] Taglaibue said those discussions are complicated because the league is "giving very serious consideration to being part of the launch of another major sports network on cable and satellite television." He said there also have been talks with other networks about the "Thursday night/Saturday package we're creating."

I don’t there’s a single thing that the NFL can do to better market itself is to offer more free games on national television. It’s always been baffling to me that the best and most anticipated regular season games of arguably the most popular televised sport in the United States are often impossible to find on TV without a satellite dish. Further, the vast majority of games are stuffed into an exciting but minute number of days: 17 Sundays in the autumn, to be exact.

The addition of a Monday night national game was an excellent innovation: more excitement, more coverage, more interest. More recently, occasional games have been shown on Thursday nights and Saturday afternoons. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t be a permanent feature on the yearly NFL schedule.

That being said, it would be sad to prevent the average fan from being able to see these games without an expensive satellite dish or cable television package.

I’m a long suffering regular dude who grew up in New York and now lives in California. I’m a lifelong New York Giants fan who doesn’t get to see very many games featuring my favorite team every year. Sure, I could go to a sports bar, but hitting the pub in sunny SoCal for a 10am kickoff just ain’t gonna crack it. Therefore, my interest in the sport wanes.

Another major problem with football-television packages falls within Sundays themselves. Often, CBS or Fox will only broadcast one game per week (as opposed to showing both an early and afternoon contest). This seems both arbitrary and silly from a fan’s perspective. Two double-headers per week, showcasing four NFL squads per week per regional market, can only help to bolster the overall and long-term strength of the sport.

Give me and others like me more choices and more games to watch, and witness the rise of ratings and revenues both, my rich and important football franchise owning betters.

DB Film Squad: Sam Raimi + Evil Dead 4 = Yes! has the scoop from the mouth of great cult director turned great uber-director Sam Raimi (he helmed the Spidey pics… ‘nuff said): he will helm Evil Dead 4, which will include the greatest bad actor (or greatest B actor: you decide): Bruce Campbell.

Raimi will be directing and producing Evil Dead 4, which will star Bruce Campbell as ASH and will also have many of the actors from the previous Evil Dead movies. Raimi says that "This is the project I really want to make. The remake can belong to someone else, but part 4 will be a continuation of the original".

There will also be a remake of the original Evil Dead, though with an entirely different director and cast.

Evil Dead 2 is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s almost a perfect blend of low budget weird horror flick with laugh-out-loud slapstick comedy. Bruce Campbell’s face shows off a thousand emotions as the tormented Ash, locked away in a woodsy cabin of the damned… things really get going when the furniture starts mocking him and his own hand becomes his mortal enemy (got the picture yet, kids?).

I can’t wait to see the talented and blessed Raimi/Campbell tandem back at it with another Evil Dead installment.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Random Tidings, Interregnum Times

A jumble of things going on with me right about now, the beginnings and ends of eras converging.

In the meantime, here’s a quick run-down of:

What I’m Reading

How to Win Friends and Influence People – by Dale Carnegie

This book, as Olde School as non-fiction comes as it was first published in 1937, is the stuff. I’m only into the second chapter, but it’s incredibly incisive stuff: simple anecdotes that illustrate simple yet powerful principles. Don’t criticize. Everyone wants to feel important. Cool stuff.

High Fidelity – by Nick Hornby

I read a sci-fi short story by Hornby called “Otherwise Pandemonium” a few years back that absolutely blew my socks off, about a kid who buys a used VCR that begins to show him the future. It was one of those oh-my-God-I-wish-I-wrote-that things, and in took place in Berkeley, a place I called home for a few years! Bloody Brits…

And of course I knew that he wrote the books that spawned the films High Fidelity, which is great and gets better on subsequent viewings, and About A Boy, which I only found to be fair. (In Mexico I learned that the Spanish translation of the film was called Un Gran Chico – this didn’t do much to increase my digging of the film.)

High Fidelity the book is great, and had the weird effect of increasing my admiration for the film version. It’s one of those great and rare instances of book and film version working marvelously. Having first watched the film, I found the book to wonderfully flesh out the characters and story, all in charming, subtle British tones that were abandoned for Crass Americana in the movie.

For anyone who’s not aware, it’s the story of a guy, Rob, who owns a record shop and has a tendency to bail on relationships before they bail on him. The fun is all in the self-absorbed self-abuse, the modern rules of attraction and dating, and a complete over-the-top obsession with music. Good stuff all around.

What I’m Watching

The Wire – Season One and The Shield – Season One

I watched and enjoyed the first four episodes of each via Netflix. Then there was a serious Netflix snafu that is still not resolved which I don’t really want to talk about as it makes my UTK (Urge to Kill) rise dramatically. The Wire, especially, is automatically one of the better shows I have ever seen. It’s story of drug dealers and cops in Baltimore strays so far away from cliché that you almost want to pinch yourself at the level of realism. Great stories, great characters, great direction, great writing. Just great. Oh, The Shield is turning out to be a lot more fun than I thought: gritty, dirty cops, political motives and racial politics. It’s just no Wire. Nothing is or was.

The Apprentice – Season Three

Yeah, I like it and I still watch it. Why? Probably because the contestants want to win unlike any reality show out there. It’s also about surviving and winning and people and New York. Trump is hat headed and overblown buffoon, but he’s dynamite at selling product. This time around we had the “Book Smart” team, those who have graduated from college up against the “Street Smart” folk, those who only have a high school degree. The trick: the street people keep it real rich. They’re worth three times that of the Bookies (and thus call their team Net Worth, Inc.) and are so far making their more degreed chums look… dumb. The brutish loudmouth and the guitar-playing lounge lizard marketing dude have already been fired, but there’s still time to join the fun.

What I’m Listening To

Nirvana – With the Lights Out – Box Set

I love this box set. It’s meaningful and interesting and revealing of perhaps the best rock band of my generation. I’ll do a full review at some point.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – “On Mercury”

What an absolutely marvelous and pleasantly surprising Latin-ska-melodic hybrid tune. I’ve got to give it to the Chiles: they’re continuing to mature and seem to get better and better as they go. This is the kind of band that you would have thought would have crashed and burned around 1995, you know? I must have listened to this song about 20 times this week, and I could easily go another round or two. Great and effortless sounding tune: this is music.

My Grand Idea of the Week

Frontman of Blues / White Funk Revival Band

This is the evil result of now having the iPod hooked up in the car. I’ve been driving way more than usual lately, and therefore have time to extrapolate delusions of fantastic grandeur. I also love to sing in the car, so there you go.

I want to wear like a late-era Jim Morrison beard (which I kinda have) and vague hippy-military garb on stage, with dark funky police type glasses (which I also kinda have). We’d do bluesy revival renditions of such great tunes as “War,” by Edwin Starr, and the showstopper would be “I Just Want to Celebrate,” by Rare Earth. I can just see it…

Maybe we’d be called Brass Tacks or American Glory Sunshine Band or something.

Of course, I have about one to two of these ideas every week. Alas… so goes my interregnum.

The Great American Novel: What’s it gonna be then, eh?

What does the Great American Novel mean? Is it a book that quintessentially defines America and is therefore Great? Or can it simply be a masterpiece of storytelling written by an American?

After a small yet serious amount of thinking, my two choices for top spot in 20th Century novels and, by extension, the Great American Novel, are Jack Kerouac's On the Road and Stephen King's The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger

On the Road is the classic outsider story, the classic road story as told by a seeker manic for truth and kicks and adventure outside the quickly solidifying strictures of post-WW II life. It's also a classic buddy story, a romance if you like, and the rollercoaster of ultra-highs and lows that only the road can bring. It has influenced generations of writers and pushed many -- including yours truly -- to head West to seek fortune and glory.

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger was originally published in 1982, with a revised (mostly to the good) manuscript published recently. It's an epic story, a fantasy Western with iconic characters and wonderful narration. It's finely written, a haunting tale of the search for salvation and for the redemption of all worlds. It's funny and strange and frightening and magical and wonderful. I've read it at least half a dozen times and never get tired of it. It's a wonderful extension and interpretation on grand storytelling in the tradition of Dickens and Tolkien, and it's one of the reasons I became a writer.

I realize that my selections are, to say the least, controversial. I fall far to the “genre” or “pop fiction” side of the fiction spectrum (as opposed to the literary folk, who will be calling out DeLillo and Franzen and… others). Generally speaking, I seek out one thing and one thing only from a novel: a good story that captures and keeps my interest.

As a writer, I've always wanted to be "better versed in the classics." I feel as though my writing is as much informed by pop culture (cartoons to video games) as High Literature, but not having as great a grounding as possible in some of the above has caused me mild anxiety from time to time.

What are your Great American Novels? What are your all-time classics?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

DB Film Squad: Mos Def & Tim from The Office, Together at Last?

Yep, you read the header right. Word has it from those brilliantly prescient fellers down at Ain’t It Cool News that the rapper delight and Brit-com star will be paired up for the long-at-last film adaptation of Douglas Adams’ sci-fi comedy classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Don’t click the following link unless you’re:

a) A film geek
b) A Hitchhiker’s Guide geek
c) Played the text-based interactive Hitchhiker’s game on the Commodore 64 as a kid (okay, that might just be me)
d) Dying to know every last detail and rumor about the rough cut of the film

Okay, here it is… I know this is like saying, Whatever you do: don’t press that red button!

The best news as far as I’m concerned is the elevation of Martin Freeman – The Office’s lovelorn, practical joke-playing Tim (anybody remember what he said every time he buzzed the concealed weapon-come-cell phone of co-worker / a-hole supreme Garreth?) – as freaked out ex-Earthling Arthur Dent. I can’t help thinking that his pairing with cool-as-smooth Mos Def as Ford Prefect will be magic on screen.

Mos ends up being, to my mind, an inspired choice. He’s not playing it broad or obvious. It’s not an over the top “comedy” performance. He’s got a delivery and a rhythm all his own, and he gets more than his fair share of laughs. He makes a really nice foil for Freeman, who was always so good on THE OFFICE. You may recognize a little bit of his Tim in the way he plays Arthur, at least at first, but there are some really important distinctions. Arthur’s nowhere near as cool as Tim. He’s rarely in control of himself. Arthur is the eyes and ears of the audience, and as he learns things, we learn them. As a result, he stays deeply discombobulated through most of the film, and there is something magnificent about that big cartoon balloon head of Freeman’s. He plays frustrated beautifully, and those moments where it all finally gets to be too much are hilarious.

Add Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel, the voice of the multi-talented Stephen Fry (I’ll say it again: he’s one of my all-time favorite authors), the always fun Alan Rickman, John Malkovich, the Heart of Gold, a point-of-view gun, and the universe is the limit.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy hits theaters on May 6th.

Just don’t forget your towel.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

At the new and improved Dumpster Bust, you can see through time...

Full-time Gig-in

There's been a slight interruption to normal production (damn, that would make a great intro to a ska tune, eh?) due to craziness and celebrating and such. I just accepted my first post-grad school full-time gig. The Critical Mass, as it were, came last week as I started one part-time job, interviewed for two others, and received two offers by the end of the week. This, after many months of unemployment; part-time, contract, and crappy full-time work (there's a book in those adventures, I can tell you -- particularly the travails of a dusty Oakland law firm); dull drudgery of graduate school and the madness of bureaucracy and red tape; and numb months (years, really) sitting before the computer searching for work in the bleak 3 am blue glow of the death-screen.

In any event, I plan fully on full resumption of Dumpster Busting in the shortly now, so for all of you thus prone:

Don't Despair.