The Simpsons: Season 18, Episode 3 – Please Homer, Don’t Hammer ‘Em

marge_simpson.jpgLOL total: 6 (but three of them were at butt jokes)

Episode three of season 18 is continuing the latter-day saints period of the Simpsons. It is still not up to classic ranking, but it is definitely funny, and definitely not a disappointment to watch.

Tonight’s episode centered around two stories: Marge finds out she is quite the handy man, but apparently the entire town of Springfield is so sexist no one will allow her to work. Also Bart finds out that Principal Skinner is deathly allergic to peanuts and in Bart-like fashion begins tormenting Skinner with a peanut-on-a-stick.

The episode started with the Simpson clan shopping in a ramshackle mall that no one goes to anymore (since somebody shot the Mayor’s dad). This allows for some nice bits with Bart inside a terribly outdated arcade (with an Asteroids clone, and a Remington Steele game, all of which look suspiciously like the games Bart used to play in the early episodes of the show) and Homer eating decades old gummy bears, which have all congealed together.

Homer buys a Time-Life set of carpentry books which he promptly forgets and never uses. Marge picks them up after a piece of floor board comes up and breaks the bedroom nightstand. Turns out she is quite skilled with a hammer and nail and quickly begins building all sorts of stuff.

Unfortunately everyone who answers her ad for a carpenter quickly laughs at her for being female. Now maybe this was typical Simpson satire knocking society for screwed up gender roles, but it felt like plain old sexism to me.

Marge gets the idea to put Homer’s name on the company and when he lands jobs she’ll secretly do the work. The funniest bits of the show come from Marge brainstorming how she could put the typical construction worker (lazy, fat and showing plenty of butt-crack) and realizes Homer is the perfect model from seeing his fat crack in bed.

Yeah, butt jokes are want got me through tonight.

I’m not offended by much. The Simpsons have certainly skewered plenty of sacred cows, and I’ve laughed through most of them. They’ve jabbed most major religions, politicians, celebrity and all sort of social norms and I’ve seen the humor behind the satire. But here it just seemed over done, or maybe that’s because it was un-funny. Had the jokes been right on, then this paragraph wouldn’t be written.

Both stories, now that you mention it were rather weak. Bart learns of Skinner’s peanut weakness after the students are ordered to leave all nut related items at home. A wee chat with Groundskeeper Willie turns up the offended allergic is Skinner. Bart applies peanut to stick and begins making Skinner do everything he says (eating garbage, stuffing firecrackers down his pants, etc).

Funny, Homer’s butt makes me laugh, but Bart’s juvenile jokes left me flat.

Marge eventually gets miffed at Homer taking all the glory that she makes him redo an old roller coaster by himself. Of course he screws up and when his ego takes him on a ride over his death-trap of a roller coaster, he finally admits it is Marge who is the construction genius.

Skinner finds out Bart has an allergic reaction to shrimp and they engage in a shrimp-on-a-stick/peanut-on-a-stick battle royale ending in both being soaked in a giant tub of Chinese peanut-shrimp gumbo.

The stories really were lame. The sexism failed to be the least bit funny (ok, Kent Brockman telling Home that he would tear down the gazeebo and build a coffin to his manhood if Marge actually built it and then challenging Homer to a topless wrestling was actually pretty funny, but still) and Skinner being allergic to peanuts so suddenly felt like lazy writing. However, they still nailed some good, if admittedly juvenile, jokes. It didn’t feel like penance watching the show, which is more than I can say for most of last season. And at least there were comprehendible stories to follow instead of a series of non sequiturs.

I laughed heartily, out loud even. And that’s enough for me….anymore.

Unfortunately due to football, the next original episode won’t air until November 05. In an unfortunate, and annoying tradition that episode will be the Halloween special, a week after the holiday.

Bootleg Country: William Shatner – 1977

128574.jpgWilliam Shatner
??/??/77
Hofstra University
Hempstead, NY

I first learned of bootleg trading through the now defunct Grateful Dead usenet group rec.music.gdead. It is no surprise then when I say that the majority of the music I saw available was the Dead and Dead related bands. Once in awhile I would find a list with something a little more unusual, say Pink Floyd or Lynard Skynard on a list, but it was usually just one show from such a band and it was an unusual sight.

Whenever I would see these “odd” shows I would scramble to trade for them. Partially because I thought they were so rare and would make good trade bait, and partially because I was interested to hear what these other bands sounded like.

It wasn’t until years later, with the availability of broadband internet and the usability of bit torrent that I realized that these oddities were much more available than I thought. Moving out of jam band circles enlightened me to another world.

By far the oddest bootleg in my collection is this 1977 recording of William Shatner performance. It is part stand up, part dramatic performance, and part audience participation and completely weird.

The performance is some 8 years after the original Star Trek television series was cancelled and a couple of years before the first movie came out, yet it is obvious that Shatner is performing before a group of Trekkers.

The show begins with Shatner reading a poem entitled “Earthbound” about a fanciful young man who is abducted by aliens for a time. It is very theatrical with spacey sound effects and Shatner reciting in his best Shakespearean voice.

Throughout the show he reads poetry, essays and theatrical monologues to illustrate points he’s trying to make in his spoken word performance. In his verbal essay he points towards man’s yearning to travel, explore and learn throughout time.

Shatner appears very well versed in history and philosophical matters, at least for the purpose of this performance.

Scattered throughout the theatrics, he answers questions from the audience which mostly deal with the series and rumors of the upcoming movie. It is particularly interesting to hear this information as the film is still in the very early stages of development (Leonard Nimoy has yet to even sign on, though Shatner says it is simply a dispute over contracts.)

In these segments Shatner also sound nervous and unsure of himself. It is quite often he tosses of a quick line and follows it with a high pitched giggle making him sound like a school boy asking a girl to the prom. It seems peculiar that a well worn actor of stage and screen would get nervous around an audience, but that may be the difference between performance and simply talking in front of a lot of people. In fact the nervousness goes completely away when he recites his theatrical lines.

I would never be able to consider myself one of the Trek fold. I remember watching the original series as a boy in afternoon reruns. I was enthralled with the drama, the action and the ladies legs in those little skirts. On the school bus me and a friend would often draw the different versions of the Enterprise in the condensations forming on the window.

However when the Next Generation came out I watched some episodes with enthusiasm, but often I was distracted by other things and paid it no mind whatsoever. I’ve watched all of the movies, but have paid no mind to subsequent series. So while I would consider myself a fan, I am always humble when I say such a thing for I know my fandom goes only so far.

Which may be why when I listen to William Shatner wax poetic about mankind’s deepest desires to explore the unknown I have a mysterious smirk on my face instead of a mystified look of reverence.

The Office: Season 3, Episode 1 – “Gay Witch Hunt”

You’ll notice tonight that I’m covering some TV shows step by step. For awhile I’ve been thinking about doing TV coverage episode by episode.  In time it could be a really cool database.

I have been watching the first season of the Sopranos and have hand written plots lines for each of them, yet haven’t gotten around to blog them out. Tonight I decided to scribble notes for The Office and My Name is Earl. As you can see I have managed to get them here. It was a little difficult determining how much I wanted to say. A simple plot line synopsis seems a little boring, but an actual review of each episode likewise seems boring and monotonous.

Fans of a show know what works. There is not a good reason to continually point out which actor does a good job, or what is annoying about a program. That leaves the plot, and the best jokes. So that is what I’ll attempt to do. Give a run down of exactly what happened adding my little thought here and there. We’ll see if it works, or if I manage to continue with it.

I started watching the Office last season. Trouble was I never could remember when it came on, so I only caught it sporadically. Over the summer I managed to figure out the time slot and catch most of the season’s episodes. Before the season had ended I did see the season finale ending with Jim finally telling Pam of his love and kissing her as the credits rolled. All summer I’ve waited for tonight to see exactly what Pam is going to do.

And here we are.

Jim transferred to Stamford and we get a few quick looks into how things work in another office. Jim has been promoted, but we quickly see that none of the employees like him. They certainly don’t take to his practical jokes (he puts Ed Helms calculator in some Jello, and Helms promptly has a total freak out), or his mugging for the cameras.

I’m not sure how Stamford is going to work out. Ed Helms is a brilliant edition and could create some wonderful comic moments, and the rest of the cast seem ok. They at least seem somewhat more normal than the Scranton bunch, and watching Jim try to find acceptance there could be very funny indeed. However, the overall cast is already almost too large, and adding an entirely new office may prove to be way too much for the series to hold. It seems highly difficult to handle plot lines for both offices which may mean Jim get regulated to quick gags, which would ruin the show.

Who knows though, maybe he’ll work something out with Pam and move back to Scranton.

Which brings us to that relationship. Part of what made The Office work was the relationship between Pam and Jim. They have a great deal of chemistry, and the awkwardness between their obvious feelings for each other and their inability to do anything about it brought a nice bit of drama to the otherwise outrageousness.

Pam broke off the marriage and the relationship with Roy, though they had to keep all the food, now frozen. Roy doles it out at lunch time. He seems to have had a rough go with it but promises he’ll get her back.

So now Pam and Jim could feasibly get back together. But as everybody knows, putting the couple together when it so much fun that their apart is never a good idea. Just as Sam and Diane or David and Maddie. I hope they don’t ever get together. I hope Pam feels to hurt over the break up and doles out many more seasons of will they-or won’t they.

The bulk of the show dealt with Michael offending and then outing Oscar. Michael some how felt that calling everyone “faggie” was appropriate. Oscar complained of this and confided in Toby that he is gay. Toby chastised Michael to be more sensitive.

Michael immediately blabs to everyone in the office about Oscar’s homosexuality, and gets mixed reactions.

Kevin thinks it is hilarious, Angela that it is disgusting (she says she tried to watch Will and Grace but was repulsed by it), Dwight doesn’t believe it (he’s not wearing women’s clothes) and Michael remains as obnoxious as ever.

Michael and Dwight form a mission to find out who else is gay, but have no idea how to do it. Dwight searches gay porn for possible clues and calls up Jim about purchasing that gay-dar he talked about previously.

As tensions rise Michael calls an office meeting where he manages to enrage Oscar even more by raising more homophobic gossip. Ever endearing Michael attempts to smooth it out by embracing Oscar and even gives him a quick kiss on the lips (Ever the follower, Dwight then jumps up for a kiss on the cheek.)

Hilariously, the episode ends with Dwight receiving his very own gay-dar from Jim (it is a portable metal detector in reality.) He quickly finds Oscar and runs it over is body, pleased when it beeps at Oscar’s crotchal reagion (in reality the belt buckle), but shocked to discover when it beeps at his own.

The show is back and in fine form. There were many laugh out loud moments and a few of the awkward, I can’t believe Michael just did that moments as well. The two offices could create more moments of hilarity, or could cause the plots to be diluted. The Jim/Pam relationship is in flux once again and I’m crossing my fingers it will remain as such.

My Name is Earl: Season 2, Episode 1 – “Very Bad Things”

During the regular season last year I only caught a couple of episodes of My Name is Earl. I enjoy Jason Lee in just about anything he does, but this show never really grabbed me. It had some funny bits, but the characters all seemed a little too dumb to be interesting and I kept myself busy with other things to watch much.

This summer, or as I like to call it, The Summer of TV Addiction, I began watching it regularly and now add it to my ever growing selection of must watch.

The season premier starts with Earl deciding to scratch off Joy from his list. It seems he never agreed with her while they were married. In a series of flashbacks we see Earl take sides with everybody but Joy including Randy (who grabs the potato chips with his toes) and a lobster (who squirted Joy while she was cutting it up.)

Earl finally takes Joys side by telling Darnell that he should throw Joy a surprise party even if she knows about it (thus ruining the surprise argues Darnell.)

Joy decides to buy a “disappearing” TV after watching Britney Spears and K-fed use one on their show.

Unfortunately the TV is too big to fit inside the trailer and the store won’t take it back because there is gum inside the receipt. They attempt to watch the television outside in the yard, but the glare of the sun and motorcyclist keep them from it. After a rain the TV is completely ruined.

Joy again attempts to take the TV back. Declaring she is going to get her $3,000 back one way or another she steals a truck from the store.

Joy tries to sell the entire truck, not what’s in the truck mind you, to someone but he doesn’t bit due to the truck having the name of the store still written upon it. His friend, an Eastern European by the accent, says she’ll buy the truck, but when they arrive at Joy’s trailer, Darnell has landed the surprise birthday party a month early, scaring off the European.

Earl, still feeling generous, decides to help her unload the truck. They paint the name off the truck, then brilliantly decide to open the danged thing to see if the contents might be worth $3,000.

Ooops, there is a man (a store employee) inside! After some thinking, they decide to order (in fake British accents no less) the man to blind fold himself and run out of the truck when they open the door. He obliges but crashes into a tree, knocking himself out.

Earl and Joy load him into the truck, and drive off to a hospital. The truck runs out of gas along the way, and while Earl walks to get more fuel, Joy accidentally lets the man loose. She got hungry, you see, and opened the truck door looking for food. The man had taken off his clothes and stuffed them to look like he was unconscious, then whacked Joy on the head while she was looking at it.

Prompting the second best line of the episode, “Son of a bitch he Ferris Buellered me.”

Man, now in his underwear is caught by Joy and Earl and Randy, but Randy sticks the man in the front of the truck, instead of the back, prompting him to take off in the truck.

During hot pursuit, Randy suggests they could cut out the man’s tongue in order that he wouldn’t be able to tell anyone who he saw. Realizing that he could still draw them he suggests they cut off his fingers, prompting the best line of the show, “At least he’s thinking, he can’t help it if he’s not good at it.”

Earl decides he has helped Joy enough and let’s the man escape. Joy is charged with stealing a truck and kidnapping and ends the episode in jail.

I read recently that the writers were going to focus more on the characters then with the list this season, and they seem to be off to a good start. Most of the episode had nothing to do with a list point, and in fact the only item on the list “take Joy’s side” was done with in a few minutes. Instead the episode moved forward from the general concept of that item.

Joy got a lot of screen and she ran with it. She’s always a funny character, but here she stole the best lines, played the best scenes and pretty much ruled the episode. It was a nice change of focus from the usual Earl/Randy relationship.

Help! Lost Has Made Me a TV Junkie

wa_lost-cast_02.jpgFor many years now I have preached the ills of television. There is so much drivel that comes through the tubes it seems to be quite literally rotting our collective brains. It is as addictive as drugs and nearly as harmful.

We have become a culture of zombies. Watching the flashing lights, quick edits and loud Top 40 soundtracks while our minds shut down for the night. Instead of fulfilling our civic duty, or enriching our lives we are content to sit listlessly hour after hour while the same scenarios play out night after night.

I’ve often thought that if some world wide disaster occurred shutting down television across the globe the suicide rate when go up exponentially. How many lives are wasted by sitting for countless hours in front of the boob tube? How many of those pathetic little lives would actually have to consider there pathetic ness if the TV went down?

TV is so mindless, so lowest common denominator nothing good can come from it.

Or so I once thought.

About a year ago I became ill and spent an entire Wednesday night laid out on the couch watching the television. It’s something I always like to do when I’m sick. It must be the white blood cell level, but when I’m ill there is nothing more soothing than passivity. And nothing produces passivity more than television.

That particular night was the premier of the second season of Lost.

I was hooked before the first commercial break. The show had quality. It was well written, well acted, funny and mysterious. And it was exceedingly well produced. Hour long dramas on TV always looked…well like TV shows to me. The production values have always lacked causing them to look forced and fake. But Lost was a wonder. It looked like money.

When did television become so cinematic?

Quickly my wife became hooked and we caught up with season one on DVD while we watched season two unfold on TV.

Each Wednesday night would come and we’d both sit in front of the tube waiting to see what would happen next. When mid-season reruns came I became physically angry. Who did they think they were getting me hooked on a show, then showing week after week of reruns?

Invasion came after Lost and we would keep the TV on for it. Though it was also produced more like a movie than a television show, it was a little too slow and my interest lagged. I guess I wasn’t the only one for it was not picked up for another season.

But my TV addiction would soon grow.

Due to an odd work schedule and a short term memory of a gnat, I rarely know what shows come on when. So even though I knew I enjoyed The Office, I could never remember when it came on. I would find myself flipping through the channels on any given night looking for something to watch, but if nothing showed itself I’d go back to my book, or throw in a DVD or play on the computer.

For most of last season I only watched Lost on a regular, weekly basis.

The summer came and I was laid off. Suddenly I had plenty of free time and no bed time.

My name is Mat and I’m addicted to television.

I’ve learned when The Office comes on, and found My Name is Earl. Law and Order marathons are not uncommon, nor is watching House or Bones of any number of shows. I now seriously scout out prime time in search of what I should watch.

Two nights ago a Law and Order rerun came on so I watched that. But it had a tie in with one of the spin-offs, so I watched that. But that one had a tie in with another spin-off (how many Law and Orders are there anyway?) so there I was staying up until midnight to see how it all worked out.

With the new season starting in full bloom now I’m desperately flipping channels trying to gauge what shows are worth my time.

I’ve always had a fondness for certain reruns, and this has only multiplied my addiction. Starting at 5 PM lastt I turned the TV on and begun watching King of Queens. That was followed by the Simpsons which was followed by Malcolm in the Middle and another episode of the Simpsons. We finished out pre-prime time with Jeopardy.

Prime time began with last nights Daily Show and when we realized that we were missing Jericho we quickly flipped it over to determine if it was any good. Half way through Justice I remembered we were out of milk and had a mini panic attack deciding whether I could live without it in the morning.

My cereal cravings got the best of me and I went for a late night Kroger run. Besides, I told myself Justice wasn’t living up to its height.

Many nights are like this now. Hours are spent watching television. Sometimes I get so excited about the new Lost season I almost start shaking.

While the quality has most certainly improved I can’t help feel guilty for all the time I’m now spending in front of that box. Fever Pitch is due back at the library tomorrow and I’ve hardly made it half way through. Not to mention the handful of other books scattered throughout the house that I haven’t touched in weeks.

What will happen to me when I find a new job and I can’t whittle away the morning and afternoon catching up on my e-mail and writing? When will I find time for a little knowledge and culture?

Is it possible to be transformed back to humanity once you’ve become a zombie?

Movie Review: Anatomy of Hell

B0006IIPYE-01-_SS500_SCLZZZZZZZ_V1100857211_.jpgNudity in the United States is an odd thing. We tend to love our nudity, yet are mostly ashamed of our love and try to hide it. Well we try to hide what we determine is actual nudity while plastering near nudity everywhere we can.

From TV to magazines to print ads, on beaches, sidewalks and shopping malls, flesh reigns king. Skimpy bikinis, short skirts, tight shirts are all acceptable, admired and loved. Yet again, flash a nipple or pubic hair and there is an outcry from the same public that so adored the near nudity.

As a lad I could often get my mother to allow me to watch the newest Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick filled with bloody battles, but as soon as a movie showed a bit of nudity and it was off to play Monopoly.

The nudity didn’t even have to be sexual. A girl walking out of a shower was reason enough to turn it off. Strangely we could often get away with a film full of innuendo or engaging in physical nuances that hid the nudity.

I don’t want to knock my mother to hard here, certainly the culture she was raised in had a great deal to do with how she parented us. She tried her best to do the difficult job of guarding our television and movie viewing habits. A difficult job with no official rules to what is acceptable. Continue reading “Movie Review: Anatomy of Hell”

Willie Nelson Busted for Pot

254605~Willie-Nelson-PostersIt’s official, our drug policy must change. Willie Nelson, 73 year old troubadour, poet, and maker of music was arrested yesterday for drug possession. During a traffic stop in North Georgia, the State Trooper said he smelled a strong odor of marijuana coming from the tour bus.

Well, duh! It’s Willie Nelson’s bus. The guy is an avid pot smoker and the whole world knows it. But dude, he’s a legend, you’re supposed to give him a pass. I mean, what harm is Willie Nelson going to do? Play a bad song? Tell a bad joke?

During a search of the bus, the Trooper found 1 ½ pounds of marijuana and approximately 2/10ths of a pound of mushrooms.

Mushrooms? Willie, you’ve been a bad boy.

Willie and the band were issued citations and released .

For the full news story (though I pretty much covered it) click here.

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

harrypotter.jpgSometimes I suspect I am the only English speaker left who hasn’t read nor seen any of the Harry Potter series. A few years back I attended a midnight sale when one of the books first came out. I went for a good larf with some friends who were completely hooked on the series.

The place was packed! Elbow to elbow they were all lined up to get the new book. It seemed very strange to me. I’ve attended my share of movie premiers which kind of makes sense, being the first to see a film and all, but they are only a few hours long. A book takes a couple of days to get through at least, and by the size of those Potter books I’d suspect a week or more of reading. Were these people then going to go home and read the book? Could they not have waited until tomorrow and made the purchase?

Scores of them were dressed up like Potter or, I guess other characters. It was like Halloween or a Star Trek convention. I went home mystified by the fandom.

In the years since, most of my friends have become Potter fans and often chatter on about it. There are marketing goods, knock-offs and even the odd religious book condemning Potter and his odious witchcraft. The little boy in the round glasses is everywhere.

I bought the books for my wife last Christmas, secretly thinking I’d read them too. Neither of us have cracked a page.

We borrowed the films from a friend a few months back but returned them having never seen a scene. At the time we thought we’d rather read the books before viewing the films. Last night while browsing Blockbuster we finally decided to rent the blasted thing and see what the fuss was all about.

I’ll start with all the problems I had with the film and there were a few.

I hated, detested, loathed the large CG creatures. They looked fake, they moved like plastic dolls and they totally distracted me from what was going on in the story.

Perhaps the budget wasn’t up for it, or maybe the technical department wasn’t up for it, but to me that’s the signal to go with the old school puppet variety. Maybe it shows my age to say that, but my eyes can suspend their disbelief with a great puppet more than with decent CG any day of the week.

The rest of the special effects were dandy. I totally believed the flying on broomsticks, the floating keys and the like, but the three headed dog, the giant ogre and other larger than life CG characters totally irritated me. Like Jar Jar Binks only less vocal.

There were several moment in the plot that felt brushed over. For instance there was a harsh rule mandated on the first day of school that all students were to stay out of the woods. Yet when Harry and his pals get detention they are forced to not only go into the woods but are left alone in them. Sure enough, Harry is almost killed. Not very practical on the schools part, I’d say. I suspect this is explained a little better in the book, but if a big item like this can’t be understood by those who haven’t read then the film makers haven’t done there job.

The directing was fair. A few choices seemed to lack any real vision. The ball game is filmed almost entirely in close ups on specific characters without but few long shots showing the over all action. For a game that is only partially explained I would have enjoyed trying to figure out how to play. But with the close-ups all I could tell was that a few characters were carrying a ball, or Harry was searching for the little one.

For all the problems I had with the film it was very enjoyable to watch. The acting was good and the characters interesting. It is always difficult for a first film in a series because there is so much background work that you have to do, and they pulled that aspect off well. I’m sure that if I was a few years younger it would sit on a shelf alongside Goonies, Gremlins and Indiana Jones.

I’m definitely looking forward to the sequels and reading the books.

Random Shuffle – 09/18/06

van morrison - magic time“Magic Time” – Van Morrison
From Magic Time

Van Morrison is such an artist that I can’t really remember when I first discovered him. I do remember having his first greatest hits album for ages and playing it like mad in college. The songs just shimmered and glowed like fresh magic. Eventually I bought the second greatest hits album and was sunk because it stunk. Most of the songs are from a religious period, if he had a religious period like Dylan. I don’t know, I’m not that steeped in Morrison mythology, but a lot of the songs seemed deeply religious, and boring.

In time I’ve come to love more and more of his songs. Is there a greater few minutes of music than “Tupelo Honey?”

His newest release, Magic Time, I first heard on a bus tour of Southern Ireland. The bus driver was playing everything Irish including The Man, U2 and lots of traditional Celtic stuff. He played this album and at the time it sounded OK. It was a little slow and not filled with the type of songs you want to hear on a multi-day bus trip.

A friend bought the disk and I borrowed it and have since found it to be a late-era Morrison treasure. The songs are mostly soft, but they have that impassioned Van Morrison delivery, and the lyrics are sweet and kind and perfect for a romantic evening.

This song seems to hearken back to a time when Van was young and full of that magic vigor. It is deeply nostalgic and unapologetic about it. It has a nice little sweeping shuffle and feels like a sunny day picnic out on the countryside – neath a shade tree to keep the heat of the sun at bay.

In other words, just about perfect.

jerry garcia run for therose“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” – Jerry Garcia
From Run for the Roses

Jerry Garcia studio albums are about like the Grateful Dead in the studio – mostly awful. That’s not actually all that fair since the Dead released a number of really great albums, and Jerry did a few good ones solo.

The problem, it seems to me, is that the Dead don’t know how to produce their own records. Live, in the moment, they can perform magic, but given time in the studio to record, listen, record some more they underestimate their abilities and screw it up.

Garcia puts a little reggae influence into his version of this Dylan classic, but it doesn’t really help. Clocking in at over seven minutes, it just goes on and on without ever hitting a level that justifies the length. Oh there is some very decent melodic Jerry guitar work in the middle, but it never manages to put me in the kind of zone I often reach during a live performance.

ryan adams“Firecracker” – Ryan Adams
From 02/09/02

I believe this is Mr. Adams third time starring in a Random Shuffle, which may be record, and certainly proves I have quite a bit of his music on my little computer. A very large portion of my RA collection (at least on my computer) is live. Awhile back I downloaded a big stinking chunk of a compilation and have yet to actually burn them to disk.

What I have heard of it, it is a bit of a mixed bag. Previously I’ve mentioned how I don’t like Adams’ tendency to write super slow, unmelodic tunes and that goes doubly so for his live material. But even the faster songs performed live, at least in this case, aren’t so great. I very much enjoy his more recent live outings with the Cardinals, but from what I’ve heard of his stuff a few years back, it is not so great. The band just isn’t as on as I like.

Take this instance, for example. “Firecracker” is a great little song. It is a near perfectly crafted pop-rock ditty. Live, the organ decides to go all speed metal on me and destroys the melody, Adams tries to keep up and does his best at being the big rock god lead man, but it doesn’t fit. What’s left is the remnants of a good song with a lot of energy, but without the tune that made the song great in the first place.

seu jorge - aquatic sessions“Rebel Rebel” – Seu Jorge
From The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions

Personally I felt The Life Aquatic was Wes Andersons least interesting film. The action and the characters never quite gelled into a cohesive whole. What helped make it a good film, though, was Seu Jorges’ Spanish takes on David Bowie songs. I don’t think this particular song from the Aquatic Sessions is a David Bowie song, but what do I know I can only name a handful off Bowie songs. So this may or may not be a Bowie cover, but it most definitely is a nice, lulling little acoustic ballad.

While visiting my folks in Oklahoma this summer a commercial came on the TV and in the background was Seu Jorge’s version of “What a Wonderful World” which prompted my brother-in-law to scoff that Jorge was in way too many commercials. At the time I wondered what he meant, as I had only seen the one commercial.

In the weeks that followed I became more familiar with Jorge’s work and have noticed that an awful lot of commercials have used his songs. It is easy to see why. Many of his songs are interesting, unique and different and yet almost instantly accessible. They are on the opposite side of the spectrum from the vapid jingles that most commercials (and pop radio) play in every day. Here’s to more commercials playing Seu Jorge and his ilk.

b000002j0903lzzzzzzz.jpg“Battle of Evermore” – Led Zeppelin
From Led Zeppelin IV

It may prove what an odd musical upbringing I had, but I first knew and loved this song through Heart and the version they recorded as The Love Mongers on the soundtrack to the movie Singles.

I still love that version.

I’m sure I was familiar with Led Zeppelin at that time. They were the titan of hard rock, and I certainly enjoyed heavy doses of hard rock. I was more in love with current bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Nirvana, all of which, of course, have heavy influences in Led Zeppelin. But I didn’t own a Zappelin alum then.

Sometime later I rectified this and bought up most of the records. Led Zeppelin is a classic, of course, though I always preferred Led Zeppelin II.

Zeppelin always reminds me of an article I once read about Kurt Cobain, who later in life, was embarrassed that he had Led Zepplin posters on his wall when he was a young boy. They were too corporate, or not punk enough, I guess and that pointed to being a sell out.

An easy enough opinion for a young man to have. I certainly went through periods of being embarrassed by music I once loved. But these days, who has the time? I admit when I was a young boy I had posters of New Kids on the Block, and dug the boy band ditties. Although, I must secretly admit it had more to do with trying to be liked by my cousin and fitting in, than any true admiration of NKOBT.

Not long later, I ripped those same posters down and wondered how I could ever have liked those boys. But now it is a fun little piece of nostalgia, and I can actually go back and admire the hooks and harmonies. It is impossible to not smile when “Hanging Tough” hits the radio on the retro hour. I still do the hand motions too.

I’m no longer a Zeppelin fan. I think I outgrew the crunching guitars and the vulgar, science fiction lyrics. But I have no shame over spending many hours watching The Song Remains the Same and being mesmerized with Jimmy Page playing the guitar like a violin.

Can Season 18 Save the Simpsons?

Let’s get this straight, I am a die hard Simpsons fan. I’ve been watching since Tracey Ullman and I will continue to watch until it is cancelled. I mean I own all of the Simpsons Forever books that detail each episode for crying out loud.

But even I have to admit that last several seasons have gone steadily downhill.

Around season six a bad episode or two slipped in. Then it became that a bad show would appear after about 3 or 4 good ones. Then it was about every other episode and finally by last season I only found myself laughing heartily on only a hand full of episodes all season long.

To me, a lot of the problem lies in what the critics call plot drift, and the all too depended upon deus ex machina. When the Simpsons first began they relied upon simple morality tales to tell each episodes story. Bart was picked on by a bully, or there was a financial crisis that had to be overcome. The plots were simple but the satire was heavy and the humor hilarious.

Eventually it seems the writers ran out of simple plot lines and began allowing plot drift to take over. This device allowed the first act plot to completely uproot and change within the second or final act of the show. A hurricane plot in act one would suddenly change to Ned being institutionalized in the next. The storylines became useless cardboard setups for the jokes, and the heart of the show went down a peg.

Still, it was quite funny. For awhile at least.

The changing plots also led to deus ex machina or out-of-nowhere devices to resolve the plot in a timely and clean manner. When Principal Skinner is found out to be a fraud, the episode quickly ends with the real Principal Skinner being literally railed out of town, and a judge proclaiming the “fake” Skinner to be renamed Seymore Skinner.

It must be said that the writers often used such devices with a knowing wink to the audience. In that episode the judge also mandates that no one will ever mention the name change under penalty of law. Both using the device and satirizing its use on other shows.

Over the last few years I must admit my love for the show has waned slightly. So many seasons I have sat through blah episodes hoping each week that the new show would rekindle the old magic. So many seasons I have again been disappointed.

So it was this anticipation of disappointment that I have turned into the first two episodes of season 18. To my complete surprise, both episodes were pretty stinking good. The Simpsons, damn them, have once again made me believe.

In the season opener, List befriends the son of Fat Tony. When Fat Tony becomes ill he allows Homer to take over the business.

And you know what? It didn’t suck.

I’ve always enjoyed the Fat Tony character. He gives the writers multiple ways to satirize real gangsters, and gangster movies. They did a nice job with this one skewering the Sopranos with Fat Tony’s son wanting to be a chef instead of a gangster, and Home screwing everything up as usual.

It wasn’t season five quality, but still pretty danged good.

Episode two also was much better than my expectations. For the first time in I don’t know how long they have managed to put two back to back good episodes on.

A child psychiatrist recommends that Bart plays the drums to get rid of his hyper active energy. Turns out he is a bit of a prodigy and gets asked to join the band along with some jazz greats. This sets Lisa on fire for she’s wanted to play in a jazz band for nearly as long as the show has been on.

There is some nice rivalry between Bart and Lisa, some decent jazz stereotypes (including the obligatory marijuana gag) and one sure-to-be-a-classic bit with the White Stripes.

In homage to the video for “The Hardest Button to Button” Bart moves around town banging away at his drum kit eventually bumping into and being chased by the White Stripes. It was a beautiful, perfect piece of comedy and brought the show out of mere decent status.

Both episodes this season have carried on traditional linear plot lines, hit its satiric targets and contained several laugh out loud moments.

They still aren’t on par with the glory years, but they have managed to spark new hope in a fan who had begun praying for cancellation.

Let’s hope it lasts.