Friday, November 28, 2008

Un-Thanksgiving Shuffle: Yes no maybe, I don't know, can you repeat the question?

...So when the international news at work is all blood and chaos, I guess it's kind of weird of me to find today's most life-affirming story to be yet another death. But that's curiously how I felt about seeing today on Reuters the passing of the titleholder for oldest person in the world, Edna Parker, at age 115. Walking home from work listening to the ol' iPod, I thought a bit about Mrs Parker, who was born in the holy-god-long-ago year of 1893 and nearly made it to 2009. Born when Grover Cleveland was president, died with President-elect Barack Obama. It's cliche, I know, but man, what a span of years to have lived through, from the 19th century to now, when pretty much everything around you has changed in the course of living.

PhotobucketTo put it in perspective, when the oldest song on today's shuffle, Elvis Presley's "I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine,"** came out in 1954, Edna Parker was already 54 years old and not even halfway through her life. Is it life-affirming, in a way, that someone dies at 115, makes it through the craziness of world wars, nuclear threat, religious fanatics, cable TV and the Internet in one lifetime? I dunno, but when people are blowing each other up for no apparent reason, I guess just staying around for so very long can sometimes seem a bit of a miracle. Supercentenarians fascinate me a bit, as they do most people.

Frankly, some days 37 seems an awful long time to be alive, really!

1. Run Run Run 4:23 The Velvet Underground
2. He War 3:30 Cat Power
3. Minimum Wage 0:46 They Might Be Giants*
4. It's Just Too Much (Live) 3:02 The Velvet Underground
5. I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine 2:31 Elvis Presley**
6. Free 3:33 Cat Power
7. Woven Birds 3:47 Calexico
8. Smash It Up (Part 2) 2:56 The Damned
9. Boss Of Me (Theme From Malcolm In The Middle) 2:59 They Might Be Giants***

* The best 46-second song I've ever heard. With bullwhip!
*** Sometimes I'm curious about the arcane algorithms that go into determining what happens when you press "Shuffle." For instance, why, today, out of 6,500 songs on my nearly full iPod, should I get two random songs each today from the Velvet Underground, Cat Power and They Might Be Giants? The shuffle mystery. Ask Edna Parker if she knows now.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

In which humidity and apathy combine

....*Yawn* OK, it's not you, it's me, I'm a little short on inspiration right now as we live through the humid, rainy, sticky spring before summer's true heat starts here. And reading about my American compadres getting ready for Thanksgiving... It's very strange still living in NZ and having a holiday come up that you're used to but is not celebrated here, like Thanksgiving or Fourth of July. They may be rather cheesy, I'll admit, but when you grow up with them, they're part of your experience. You sort of feel a bit short-changed, and yes, a wee bit homesick -- sorry, Guy Fawkes Day isn't a really good substitute. We have done quasi-Thanksgiving celebrations these last three years, though, which is cool.

Anyway, I've been spending much of the past several days in the engaging project of stripping 25-year-old wallpaper off walls and repainting the boy's bedroom. Which is pretty gosh-darned exciting as you may guess.

PhotobucketSo lacking any real content I'll just throw in one FINAL plug for Movember donations from you -- if you've been mulling over donating towards my manly facial hair and helping fight prostate cancer, there's less than a week left to go til it all wraps up at month's end! Look at the grainy picture, see how hairy I've gotten? And I'm doing it for all of mankind! Many, many thanks to those of you who have donated, my 3-man Pagemasters team "Shavemasters" has raised nearly NZ$500 so far which isn't terrible at all. But if you've got a dollar or two, please click here and securely donate to the cause. American funds gladly accepted as well (and hey, your dollar is worth more than ours so $10US is like $20 here!)

Righto, Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it and have a turkey leg for me!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The history of rock II: The Replacements, 1985-1990

PhotobucketWhen it all began, The Replacements didn't aspire to be the voice of a generation, or anything much at all, really, other than a kick-ass rock 'n' roll band. But singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg and his mates -- guitarist Bob Stinson, bass Tommy Stinson, drummer Chris Mars -- were a little too talented to just tear it up in bars and dives forever, and the Replacements evolved into one of the best bands of the 1980s. They were loud and smart, messy and true. Their first four albums were reissued by Rhino Records earlier this year, with a ton of bonus tracks.

Now Rhino is back with the second half, the final four Replacements albums from 1985-1990 all polished up with remastered sound, liner notes and a nice selection of bonus demos, rare and live tracks. For Replacements fans, these are must-haves, with a total of 35 new songs added between the four discs.

The Replacements' fourth album, Let It Be, was an audacious masterpiece (naming yourself after a Beatles disc does take a peculiar kind of guts). The band got signed to the major label Sire, and were poised for greatness. Unfortunately, the major label marked the beginning of the end -- founding guitarist Bob Stinson soon got kicked out over his self-destructive alcoholism, there was the usual tug-of-war between trying to win fame and trying to stay true to themselves, and the Replacements flamed out by 1990.

Let It Be's 1985 followup, Tim, still showed the band at the height of their chaotic powers. Westerberg was stretching his songwriting wings here and it's classic tracks one after another: "Hold My Life," "Bastards of Young," "Kiss Me On The Bus," "Waitress In The Sky." The mature talent that showed in early tracks like "Shiftless When Idle" blossoms here – Westerberg is trying to articulate what it means to be young, confused and indecisive, and that yearning, questing feeling illuminates the best of his work. He doesn't pretend to have the answers, as he sings on "Bastards of Young": "God, what a mess, on the ladder of success / Where you take one step and miss the whole first rung." The outtakes here include several versions of songs recorded with Big Star lead singer Alex Chilton, who would be homaged in the band's next album. If you like "Can't Hardly Wait," you'll find two versions of it in the bonus tracks - echoey acoustic and spiky electrified ones. Shortly after Tim was finished, Bob Stinson, who never liked Westerberg's mellower songwriting directions, was kicked out of the band and a bit of the outlaw edge was lost.

Photobucket1987's Pleased To Meet Me sometimes gets overshadowed by Let It Be and Tim, but it might just be my own personal favorite Replacements disc. I've always had a love for the anthem "Alex Chilton," a ferocious tribute to the man whose sound is a big inspiration for the band, and this disc balances the heartfelt "The Ledge" and "Can't Hardly Wait" with the slacker stomp of songs like "I Don't Know" and "Red Red Wine." A hefty 11 bonus tracks are included on the reissue, including the intriguing unreleased work in progress "Photo," the excellent snarling B-side "Election Day" and covers of "Route 66" and "Tossin' And Turnin."

Conventional wisdom has it the Replacements' final two albums mark a decline, a move away from raucous alt-rock into mawkish sentimental pop, but there's actually a lot to like. Admittedly, 1989's Don't Tell A Soul is probably the weakest Replacements album – the production is just too slick and '80s, and the tone uncertain as the band moves awkwardly towards adulthood. Still, the marvelous "I'll Be You" stands out, and was the band's only Billboard top 100 hit. The reissue of Soul includes some of the best rare gems in the catalogue, such as boozy country-fried rarity "Portland" and a marvelously silly, slapdash jam with none other than Tom Waits, "Date To Church."

PhotobucketThe band's swan song All Shook Down really isn't a Replacements album at all, but Westerberg's first stab at a solo album, with fellow members Mars and Tommy Stinson only making a few appearances and a session band filling in the rest. If you're looking for the anarchic spirit of Hootenanny-era Replacements you won't find it here, as it's an album heavy on acoustic sounds, introspective lyrics and hushed vocals. Yet for all that, it's a calmly compelling, melancholy disc about the hangover at the end of an era, with some of Westerberg's sharpest writing ("Sadly Beautiful," "Merry Go Round"). "Where It Began" is a bittersweet farewell to what was: "Never had to bow to you when we began / now I can play you a tune at your command." The sense of drunken fun that dominated the band's early albums is gone, true, but there's still a considerable talent left behind.

The Replacements left a considerable influence on alt-rock -- and Westerberg's solo career hasn't quite set the world on fire, maybe, but it's still produced some fine and very underrated music. Bob Stinson sadly succumbed to his addictions in the 1990s, drummer Mars became a painter and Tommy Stinson, of all things, joined Axl Rose's rotating Guns 'n' Roses cast. The story of the Replacements is really that of Westerberg, growing from a smart-mouthed adolescent into a confident songwriter. The rougher edges get sanded off along the way, but that happens to us all, doesn't it?

Friday, November 21, 2008

We are on the dinosaur rock touring circuit

For a wee little country in the middle of an ocean, we do get a lot of the big acts down here. All the venerable rock dinosaurs are coming through in 2008-09 it seems -- in addition to Neil Young at Big Day Out, whom I'm way down for, we're also seeing folks like Stevie Wonder, Leonard Cohen, Billy Joel and the surviving members of The Who (should that be the "Wh"?) I was really, really tempted to see Mr. Townshend and Mr. Daltrey when they come this way in March, but when ticket prices START at $150 for the nosebleed seats, I decided I'd be better off just popping my DVD of "The Kids Are Alright" back on again. Nostalgia is one thing, but yeesh, $250 for a decent seat is a bit much.

• On the other hand, my homey Ryan Adams is coming back to New Zealand in February, and while I had kind of mixed feelings about his last gig, in the end I remember the really good bits far more than the annoying ones and I'd like to see what he does again. I'm enjoying his latest Cardinology (which starts very strong, runs out of steam a bit in the end though). And he's playing at the Powerstation which is a great place to catch a gig, even if he doesn't turn the lights on again this time.

• Chuck Klosterman writes my favorite opening lines of the week, and I don't even really care about Guns 'n' Roses Chinese Democracy: "Reviewing Chinese Democracy is not like reviewing music. It's more like reviewing a unicorn." A great little essay piece from a critic who shames me.

• Very cool late birthday present of the week: Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison Legacy 3-disc special edition set, which includes two entire shows from the Man in Black's fateful prison concert, and a DVD documentary which I haven't even cracked open yet. Just hearing the entire show is quite a trip, though -- it's been built up as one of those mythic musical moments, and yeah, a fair amount of it was artifice and stagecraft, but still -- there's something there, in the joyous howl of the inmates' voices and Cash's cool calm control as he sings 'em a few numbers. One of the great high-wire balancing acts in music history and an absolutely fantastic reissue box package by Sony/Legacy, too.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, defined

Conversation whilst playing with Lego with the boy:

"...Dad, you know how much I like enja turtles?"

Me: "Ninja turtles?"

"No, en-jah turtles. They have lots of vehicles you know and do things."
"Engine turtles?"


"Do they like to have fights and run around a lot?"

"No, enja turtles, not neenja. They ride cars too. I think they eat cats."

"Ninja turtles, those are called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- they've been around since I was a teenager. Did you learn about them at playschool?"

"Yep, enja turtles, they're my favrit."


"...Dad, you need to learn how to call things names you know."


".... But you can call them ninja turtles if you want to."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Movember reminder -- time's running out to donate

PhotobucketRight-o, it's halfway through Movember as this month is known -- if you recall my previous post , this year I'm part of the Movember prostate cancer awareness fund-raiser event where I grow a mustache (or manly goatee thing in my case) and you pledge money toward it to help fight prostate cancer worldwide. Yes, my face is itchy for a good cause!

Please, if you're able and willing, toss a couple bucks to the cause -- it doesn't have to be much, even $5, and it doesn't matter where you live as it can be converted to NZ dollars.
To donate to my Mo you can either:
1. Click right here and donate securely online using your credit card
2. If you're in NZ, write a cheque payable to ‘Movember Donations Account', referencing my Registration Number 1531176 and mailing it to: Movember, PO Box 12 708, Wellington 6144
All donations over $10 are tax deductible.

So if you please, donate a couple bucks to the cause of men's health in the name of Spatula Forum. Many thanks!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

And now let us hear the fanboy's lament

One of the annoying things about being a bit of a fanboy pop-culture geek is that it often comes with a sense of completism. If I like something enough, I always have the urge to go out and get everything else that writer/musician/filmmaker has done. Which is how we end up with a house full of stuff.

Breaking the chain on that is hard, especially when it comes to music. There are certain musicians whom I will, no doubt about it, get their latest album soon as it comes out, on release date if at all possible. We'll call those "Category 1" musicians -- David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Wilco, White Stripes, Elvis Costello, for instance.

PhotobucketBut not every artist whose music I like a lot can be Category 1. For instance, I'm a big fan of Lucinda Williams, love her sultry alt-country style, saw her live back in 2003 (and Peter, huge in Avril's belly at the time, kicked along through the show). Her discs "Car Wheels On A Gravel Road" and "Essence" are stone-cold favorites of mine. But I have to admit her last album, "West", was merely OK for me, a step down from the peaks. Now, I've got nearly every Lucinda Williams disc -- 7 by my count. Her new album, "Little Honey" just came out, has gotten decent reviews -- but it's not Category 1 for me. It's in the land of "will probably pick up eventually, but not a rush." And maybe I can overcome my fanboy completism enough to say, maybe I won't get it at all. (And this is not to pick on Lucinda Williams here, as I do dig her a lot.)

PhotobucketSometimes a band can disappoint me so much that I may just say "they're off the buy list." The Beastie Boys come to mind -- their last, 2004's anemic, self-parodying "To The 5 Boroughs," seemed a huge step back from the dizzying funk-rap-fusion of their previous few discs. Then there's R.E.M., whom most everyone will admit were on a fairly big slump post-Bill Berry -- their albums after "Monster" were all so dull I've long since gotten rid of 'em, but I did pick up and quite enjoy this year's "Accelerate." So always a chance for a comeback. Frankly, as I look at my ever-blooming CD collection I get to the point where I think, "what is it about this album that will stand out for me, or am I just going to get it because it looks nice next to the others?" This theory applies to books, comics, toys, whatever your poison is.

...Is there any particular point to this little ramble? Perhaps it's just something peculiar to the collector's gene, that you can spend time obsessing over "holes" in your collection of choice and what they might mean. That way lies madness! I guess it's hitting yet another birthday this week but you kind of start to realize that really, you can't ever get every single thing you might possibly be interested in. Nothing can ever be "enough." I have no plans to retreat and dig my head back into the turtle shell, but I gotta realize -- there's a heck of a lot in this world to do and limited time (and money) to do it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thursday shuffle: Too much monkey business for me to be involved in

Photobucket...So here's the thing, I thought as I was walking across town to the mechanic to pick up the car --- do you think Sarah Palin doesn't realize she lost the election, and that a large majority of voters and pundits would have to say McCain's choice of her was a big part of the reason for that? Watching her suddenly give more interviews than she somehow managed to do while she was running for vice-president, I had to wonder. Suddenly she's getting more press than President-elect Obama, which doesn't quite seem right. Can we just put a moratorium on 2012 race stories until, I dunno, 2010 at least?? And a moratorium on Sarah Palin, for, like, ever?

1. Here For You 4:32 Neil Young
2. Too Much Monkey Business 2:57 Chuck Berry
3. Gamma Ray 2:57 Beck
4. I Want You To Want Me 3:21 Chris Isaak
5. Come What May 4:46 Nicole Kidman & Ewan McGregor, Moulin Rouge soundtrack
6. Would If I Could 3:40 Melissa Auf der Maur
7. Here (Peel Session) 3:49 Pavement
8. Happy Jack 2:12 The Who
9. Victim Of Love 3:38 Erasure
10. Heart In a Cage 3:28 The Strokes
11. FM 1:46 The Mountain Goats
12. King Horse 3:01 Elvis Costello & The Attractions

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A present with a tail

PhotobucketSo, today's my birthday (#37 if you're counting -- which I have decided to no longer do, frankly), and to celebrate, I decided to get an unusual present for myself -- meet Bowie,* the new cat in our household. I spent much of yesterday afternoon over at the Auckland SPCA auditioning cats to be our new animal, always a tricky process. It'd been 13 years since I last did this for our wonderful Kudzu cat, who couldn't come with us from the US. It's never easy to look over lovely little animals and try to choose just one, knowing they all need a new home. But this little fella -- well, she just seemed right, somehow, from the way she began loudly purring as I took her out of her cage and her calm but not sullen disposition. Hopefully the boy doesn't drive her insane.

Speaking of which, Peter was so excited you'd have thought the cat was his birthday present. Bowie seems really affectionate but not too squawky (she barely meowed at all during the car ride home), and I have to admit, after two years or so without, I'm really going to dig having a fuzzy little cat in our lives again. Makes New Zealand feel a little more like home.

*The names were tricky; "Twist" was suggested by the SPCA after her bent left ear, while we considered such names as Iggy, Tardis (too geeky even for us) and Fantastic Birthday Cat (um, that one was Peter's). In the end I went to homage my favorite musician but also picked a name that's kind of cute and short and not too hard to say.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

New Zealand: Time for a change, too

Politics, politics, politics. New Zealand's Election 2008 has come and gone, and I am just about utterly drained of all insight after a week packed with parsing polls and picking politicians in two nations, but I'll scrape together a few thoughts on Aotearoa's vote:

Photobucket• In what wasn't really a surprise, National has unseated Labour in the government pretty decisively (Labour barely won 34 percent of the vote), and our new Prime Minister is John Key. Sad to see as I do like Helen Clark, who will still go down as one of NZ's great leaders, but at the same time I never really felt like the electorate was behind her, and frankly, almost any politician is going to have a hard road trying to stay in office after nearly a decade there. As I've mentioned before, I was far less emotionally invested in this country's election than I was in the US, where I would've had to take to bed for a week if McCain had won. I'll see what National does, I guess -- Key is rather mild in demeanor but some of the folks aligned with him are a bit right wing for me.

• Curiously, both Clark and Key tried grabbing for the Obama mantle; Clark noting that the US chose to go left, so vote Labour, Key saying the US went for change, so vote Nationals. There are interesting contrasts and parallels with the US election, though -- a seasoned politician is defeated by a relative political novice, and the opposition party makes big gains. The difference here is, instead of the centrist-left taking over, our government is now moving more to the right. (Ironic, of course, that we left the US during the dark days of Bush and moved to New Zealand, only to have Obama win the US and the right win New Zealand!)

Photobucket• An interesting quirk of New Zealand is that the Electoral Act here actually makes it illegal to do ANYTHING on Election Day that might be construed as influencing votes. Which means suddenly overnight thousands of big campaign signs disappeared; newspapers on Election Day had barely a word about the vote, other than a few non-candidate related short pieces; if you have a bumper sticker on your car you've got to take it off on Election Day. Yow.

• So when we went to vote yesterday I was surprised by how basic the ballots were -- no propositions, no sewer board district candidates, nothing but "two ticks" -- the party vote and the local MP candidate vote. Makes it easy to fill out! Peter was very interested in watching Mum and Dad cast their vote and even got a sticker for voting (which, um, they didn't really let him do).

And with that, we're off to the beach -- as the good wife put it, "two elections in one week is just too much!"

Friday, November 7, 2008

One election down, one to go!

Yeah, man, it's all-politics week on Spatula Forum, by god, because it sure seems like there's nothing else going on in the world! A handful of random musings on elections both in America and here:

PhotobucketObama-Mania: Yeah, I know they're all just trying to make a buck, but when was the last time you saw everybody selling T-shirts with the president's face on them? Or newspapers selling t-shirts with their own front page on them? ...The guy who bought 10,000 copies of the Bellingham Herald as an investment, however, I don't know about him. He'll be like the guy with 10,000 worthless copies of the "Superman dies" comic in his basement, won't he?

"Palin thought Africa was a country, not a continent"?... Hell's bells, I don't like the woman but even I have trouble believing that could be true, but they were saying this on FOX News of all places. The walls have fallen and all the factions are spilling their guts, it seems. If even a fraction of what's being said is true, I thank the voters Sarah Palin never got to be within a few heartbeats of the White House. Will she be back in 2012? Can't wait for all the tell-all books.

• Turning to New Zealand... Imagine for a moment that in a US Presidential election debate not one but BOTH of the leading candidates admit they're not really all that religious. Can't see it? That's what happened in NZ's final leaders debate between Prime Minister Helen Clark and National's John Key before tomorrow's election. The kind of far-right fundamentalism exemplified by Palin is fairly non-existent as any kind of major force here, pretty much confined to very minor parties. For both leading candidates in an election to stand up and say they don't know if there is a God would just never happen in the US. About a third of New Zealanders call themselves non-religious, quite different from America, so maybe the candidates here just know their audience better. Either way, interesting difference.

• So tomorrow is our New Zealand election and yes, I know, it's been historic and world-changing ... wait, that's the American one. This one has been pretty dull, with National likely to assume power after nearly 10 years of Labour, but still, it's my first time voting down under and I'm excited to do that. The MMP system means that I cast two votes, one for party and one for a candidate, and I can split those up if I want to (vote for Green Party as a party and a Labour candidate, for instance). So you're able to strategize your vote a bit here and minor parties are way more influential than they are in the US. It's very likely some kind of coalition between National or Labour and the smaller parties will have to be formed to get the magic 50-percent of Parliament mark, so while the voting is tomorrow it could well be days before we really know who's going to run the country the next three years. I'll report tomorrow night from Election Day!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

President Barack Obama

PhotobucketWow. What a moment. What a fine day.

I don't care your politics, if you aren't the slightest bit moved by what happened today, you're incapable of seeing the bigger picture. Just 150 years ago, Barack Obama might well have been enslaved to another human being. Fifty years ago, in certain states he could have been beaten to death just for trying to vote. When he spoke of 106-year-old Anna Nixon Cooper tonight, and her journey from "a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky" to today when "she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote," for a moment I felt the quivering membrane of history, and how quickly something can change.

No, he won't be perfect, no, he won't "save us all," but by gosh, I am proud of what America did tonight, and while I can't be there to celebrate, I'm lifting a glass or two to cheer him on.

President Barack Obama. Wow. It's easy in all the clutter and noise of our 24-7 wired world to downplay what a gigantic thing this is, that a black man is now President-elect of the United States of America.

The sun is shining in New Zealand tonight after rain much of the day, and we saw a big honking rainbow out the window of our kitchen. Yeah, there's trouble in the world, but just for tonight, let's bask in how we much we've done toward atoning for the scars that have long marked America's shining optimism.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Elections, elections, everywhere an election

I do believe I'm suffering from a kind of pre-election catatonia --- as I may have mentioned, I've got TWO elections this week and being as I work in the media, it's kind of all-election all-the-time for me lately. Having absorbed the glowing power of a thousand unrelenting Internet pundits, I'm too dazed to offer a post of much substance.

Thus all I can really say is this:

I may not live in America anymore, but I was born there and love it still, and just for once in this rather grim decade, I'd like to see the "good" guys win. So go vote, no matter who you plan on voting for, and whatever happens, stay cool, amigos. I'm sure whatever happens I'll be back with something to say about it. And once this one's over I'm gearing up for New Zealand's election Saturday! I'm a voting fool! (No wisecracks, please...)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

This is a public service announcement -- with facial hair!

Howdy all, going to break character today from my usual scintillating content, as this year I'm taking part in the Movember prostate cancer awareness fund-raiser event. What does it entail? No climbing mountains or marathon runs for me -- instead, I boldly step forward and offer to grow facial hair and not shave the entire month of November in order to support men's health and the fight against prostate cancer. I know, it's a big step for me, but I'm willing to put down the razor for a month for a good cause.

PhotobucketSo if you're able, please donate a couple bucks to the cause. American credit cards will be accepted (payment amount will be in NZ $). To donate to my Mo you can either:
1. Click right here and donate online using your credit card
2. If you're in NZ, write a cheque payable to ‘Movember Donations Account', referencing my Registration Number 1531176 and mailing it to: Movember, PO Box 12 708, Wellington 6144
All donations over $10 are tax deductible.

The money raised by Movember is used to raise awareness of men's health issues and donated to the Cancer Society of New Zealand and the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. These two charities will use the money raised to fund research and increase support networks for those affected with prostate cancer and experiencing depression.

As if the cause weren't groovy enough, I pledge to show you a photo of yours truly at month's end with glorious hairness. Thanks in advance for your support, folks -- and yes, I will look like Magnum P.I.