Asteroids Galaxy Tour - "Around the Bend"

My new favorite song and video...(yes, courtesy of the Apple iPod commercial. So what? SO WHAT, I say!)...


Actual notes from my journal while vacationing in Silver Beach, MI, September 6-15

The seagulls on the beach - I'm on the beach! - seem grumpy. They'll walk right up to you and not care. They're so over humans. They're like the pigeons in Chicago that way. That and I saw one seagull shoot another seagull and then dump its body in the lake.

Conversation with myself while laying on the beach:
Me: "Hell would be having to count every grain of sand on every beach in the world."
Myself: "But then you'd get to be on beaches all over the world!"
Me: "No. It's Hell. They'd bring the sand to you."
Myself: "But that would take forever."
Me: "Exactly."

The sand is hard and bumpy when laying on it. If this was my bed, I'd be pissed. But it's sand! On a beach! So it's great!!!

It's always the wrong guys who keep their shirts on at the beach.

How does a seagull's skinny, spindly legs support its whole, plump body? And why do they balance on one leg when they could use both? It's like they're a...one-legged...seagull. Or something.

With the light behind them, the cresting waves are darker than the rest of the water and look like night. But then sometimes, with their blue streaks, they look like clouds rolling against a moon-lit sky. Just for a second.

Note to self: St. Joseph basically shuts down at 9p. Plan on eating before then. A take-out container of honey garlic chicken from Chan's Garden (not one single veggie!) does not a dinner make.

I'm going to try to write a story this morning but first I have to point out that so far, within five minutes of walking on the beach, I saw a good-looking, apparently straight guy suntanning in powder blue Speedos next to his girlfriend in a matching bikini AND a woman sweeping the beach with a metal detector. Where am I? An '80s comedy? Where's Andrew McCarthy? Also seen: lots of monarch butterflies.

The thin, white, rippling crests on the waves look like gloved fingers playing piano.

Note: this is the third time I've heard Michael Buble's "Feelin' Good" in 2 days.

I just realized I don't know the difference between corn kernels and popcorn kernels? WTF? Is there a difference? I can't believe I don't know.

Eating a pumpkin doughnut on a sunny beach. Thank you, September.

I wonder if that's the same monarch butterfly I keep seeing hovering over the water. Is it trying to go somewhere? Is it trying to leave Silver Beach to make a better life for itself somewhere else? I've never seen a butterfly flutter around water so much. It almost looks like it's scavenging for food. I'd love to see a dainty little monarch butterfly dip into the water and emerge clutching a fish 10 times its size. But it's like it's trying to get somewhere and then gets tired and comes back. "Next time," it tells itself. "Next time I'll really show Mom and Dad that I'm serious about flying away."

Or maybe it thinks it's a seagull, or at least wants to be one. It does seem to fly over them a lot as they sit on the beach in groups (or balance on one leg. Seriously, why?). Maybe it's confused or unhappy with its lot in life. I picture it flying around, trying to ingratiate itself to the indifference birds. "Hey guys! What's up? What's new? Catch any good fish today? Yeah, me neither."


I've Lost Half the Year and Half of My Mind (Duh Duh Duuuuuh...)

Whoa. Remember way back in January when I said I was taking time off from blogging but I'd still check in every once in a while with updates, thoughts, etc. Yeah, now it's...August. How did that happen? Where did this year go? All these questions are making me feel stoned.

Anyway, I caught a commercial the other day for Bonnie Hunt's upcoming talk show, shockingly titled "The Bonnie Hunt Show." How much do I love her? This is a perfect idea as Hunt is as funny, sarcastic and down-to-earth as when she's talking to David Letterman or little kids. Who knows how long this show will last but just seeing this commercial made me start compiling a list of other things I'm excited about right now. Other things such as:

- The new music video for "Warcwick Ave." by Duffy, a beautiful song sung by a new, up and coming singer with a great voice. The video is so simple and so touching in its lack of polish. It's light years above the generic singing-to-a-crowd video for her first single, the great "Mercy," so hopefully her record company realizes Duffy deserves a little something more.

- Out magazine's article, "Has Manhunt Destroyed Gay Culture?" In exploring not only why Manhunt.com, the most popular gay male website for, uh, "connecting," has gotten so popular, but what it has taken away from gay culture, writer Michael Joseph Gross has written a surprisingly compelling argument for logging off instead of getting off. Even more, the news that one of Manhunt's founders, Jonathan Crutchley, has donated thousands of dollars to anti-gay Republican presidential nominee John McCain has ignited such fury from Manhunt's subscribers that he's been forced to resign as Chairman. Granted, he'll still be raking in millions and probably still donate it to McCain, but in this age of Web 2.0, it's an inspiring reminder for writers like myself of the power of print journalism.

- The fact that "Project Runway" has finally gotten better. Season 5 has seriously been lacking with the challenges (recycling the grocery store challenge was fine, but then recycling the take-a-photo-in-NY-and-use-as-inspiration challenge? That wasn't even very exciting the first time!) and with talent (no one has really stepped out as a consistent bad-ass designer the way Kara Saun or Michael Knight did in their respective seasons). But when they had to design a day-and-night business outfit for Brooke Shields to wear on her nighttime drama "Lipstick Jungle," the results were exactly as they should be. The top 2 contenders were surprisingly great and the bottom two were heinous and laughable. The best of both worlds!

- Pineapple salsa. It's sitting in my fridge, right now, waiting to be piled on top of grilled jerk chicken for dinner tonight. Just sitting there, with its cucumber and mint and lime, calling my name, whispering, "Donny...Donny, you know you want to eat me...come on...there's plenty extra...I'm so sweet and crunchy...Just scoop me up in a spoon and eat me. Spoon me, Donny, spooooon meeeee." Ok, that just got weird. But whatevs. Between that and the quarter of a watermelon that I ate by myself a few weeks ago and the margarita that I had with ravioli - yes, ravioli! - when the in-laws visited, I'm loving summertime food. I just need some grilled corn and I'll be all set. I wonder if pineapple salsa tastes good on ravioli?

- Jamie Lidell. Love him. If you haven't heard of him, watch this. Or this. Or just go buy his albums Multiply and Jim because his brand of neo-soul pop is infectious.

- St. Joseph, MI. I'm heading there for 10 days in September. Not only is the train ride under two hours and a fraction of the cost of a plane ticket to anywhere, I found a great deal at a nice hotel that's downtown and right by the beach. It's close, it's cheap, it's beautiful, and my sweetie will be joining me for the second weekend for our first and only vacation this whole year. Thank you, staycation!

I'm sure there's more but that's what's occupying my time right now. Summer's almost done so I'm just hoping to make the most of it. And hopefully it won't be summer 2009 before I blog again, but knowing me, that's not out of the question.


So, yeah...

I obviously haven't been blogging in a while. Over a month, in fact. Something clicked when I started thinking about what I want to do in 2008. I realized I want to write more, but not just for my blog. I want to write bigger and better, dedicating more of my energy to submitting to magazines. Maybe even working on a larger project that's both quieter and more demanding than blogging and magazines, writing a book. So I realized something had to give and that something, for now, is this blog.

After two and some years of always thinking/worrying about what my next post is going to be about, after dedicating entire weeknights or even weekends to put together a post that, quite frankly, not a lot of people read, I decided that I've done it and I'm done with it. I've tried it, I've had my ups and downs with it, I've written posts that I'm really proud of and posts that I'd go back and delete if I was that kind of blogger. Some posts even helped lead to a freelancing gig which has lead to a permanent staff position with a magazine I really like and respect and really, what more can you ask than that?

And you know what? So far it feels great. After sitting in front of a computer all day at my regular job, I can come home and not sit in front of a computer all night if I don't want to. I can cook! I can bake! I can watch TV! I can have dinner with friends! I can work out! So many not-really-exciting-but-
I-consider-exciting activities!!!

Notice what wasn't on that list of activities I can indulge in now that I'm not blogging? Writing. The funny thing is with all this new time on my hands I haven't exactly gotten around to doing the things I gave up blogging for in the first place. But we're now, what, 3 weeks into the new year? I can enjoy myself for a while, right? Plus, have you seen the new American Gladiators? It's pretty awesome.

Some people started blogging a long time before I did and are still going. I think that's great. Some people didn't blog nearly as long as I did before giving it up. I laugh in their faces. And I'm not saying I'm giving it up for a good, anyway. Just for now. Who knows? Maybe after three months or six months or a year I'll be clamoring to bust out a bunch of new posts on the latest pop culture shenanigans. I still haven't finished blogging about making all 125 (127?) recipes in Giada De Laurentiis' Everyday Italian even though it's been, um, quite some time since I started that project. So maybe when that happens I'll have to blog about it for closure and, you know, evidence. (If a virtual text few people read actually counts as evidence that I finished a project.)

The point is: I may pick this back up again, I may not. Who knows what the future holds besides God and Kanye West? In the meantime, here are a few of the things that I'll be doing/reading/consuming/eating whilst not blogging:

Reading Project Rungay - The best way to keep up with Bravo's addictive reality competition and enjoy the witticisms, snark and dead-on fashion critiques of Tom & Lorenzo. Project Runway's 4th season may not be its best (Oh my dear Lord, Ricky has to leave), but this blog makes it a lot more enjoyable.

Reading Janet Xone - With Miss Jackson's latest album, Discipline, hitting shelves on February 26th, this is really the best way to know about all the news, performances, reviews and stories concerning Janet. And if you haven't checked out her latest video for "Feedback," click here. Watch it more than once - it grows on you, especially once the killer choreography kicks in.

Eating Aromatic Noodles with Lime-Peanut Sauce - Part of the reason I've put Giada's Italian cookbook aside is because I picked up fellow Food Network host Ellie Krieger's latest book, The Food You Crave. So far the Pumpkin Muffins, Energy Bars, Baked Onion Rings with Ranch Dip, Vanilla Hot Chocolate and Whole Wheat Pancakes with Strawberry Sauce have all been great and healthy (another New Year's resolution). I loooove me some Asian peanut sauces because I basically love anything with peanut butter, so I'm thinking this recipe from Ellie will make me silly happy.

Using my new Netflix account - I just started my subscription and finally watched 2005's An Inconvenient Truth. Next up is the new, Oscar-nominated documentary No End in Sight. I'm going to be so smrt, s-m-r-t!

Reading Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach - After reading Roach's Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, I've been dying (no pun intended, especially because it's not a very good pun) to read her follow-up. If she explores the soul with as much humor, eye-opening research and intelligence as she did corpses, then the wait will have been worth it.

Rooting for Atonement at the Oscars - I just saw it and am hoping it wins something big, even though I haven't seen There Will Be Blood yet. Seriously, this adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel (which I really liked) is gorgeous, well-acted and, to employ a cliché, heartbreaking. Knowing the general rule that the movie is never as good as the book, I was surprised to fall in love with this movie so much. Even though it drags in the middle (just like the book), I couldn't help but completely buy into the whole production. And it has James McAvoy looking adorable and delivering a fantastic performance? Done and done. Dear Striking Writers, The Oscars better take place so I can see Mr. McAvoy in a tux. Sincerely, Me.

Well, that's it for now. Enjoy.

Take care.



Let It Snow, Man

When I was in the third grade, my class huddled into our classroom on a frosty December night. We were waiting to march single-file to the auditorium where we'd sing in our school's annual holiday concert. (Although I think back then they were still actually called Christmas Concerts.) To placate the rowdy group while we killed time, our teacher, Mrs. Handiwerk (I swear to Santa that was her real name) popped in a video.

I was expecting "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" or "Frosty the Snowman" - you know, something with bright animation, maybe some songs, maybe some characters rendered out of clay, the usual Christmas kids movie stuff. What came on was The Snowman, a 1982 animated movie based on the popular children's book by British author/illustrator Raymond Briggs. Instead of bright, sparkling colors, I saw muted, gorgeous animation renderd out of colored pencil. Instead of "gee whiz!"-style Important Lessons, here was a children's movie entirely dialogue-free, accompanied only by beautifully haunted music by Howard Blake. And the only musical number was the ethereal "Walking In the Air," sung by a young man (Peter Auty, a St. Paul's Cathedral choirboy) with such a clear, high voice, I couldn't tell if it was a boy or girl.

For the next twenty-seven minutes, I, along with a few of my classmates, was hypnotized. The more hyper members of our group couldn't be bothered by such a subdued movie, but the budding, brooding little drama queen in me was instantly attracted to the story of a snowman who comes to life and takes the boy who made him flying around the world. It's cute and whimsical and somewhat melancholy, all of which, to me, perfectly sums up Christmas.

I'm not sure how I feel about someone uploading the entire movie to YouTube. I'm not saying you need a flat-screen plasma TV to appreciate it - obviously that wasn't the technology we were dealing with in 1989. But even a small, quiet movie like this doesn't work so well when viewed in the little YouTube box. But the movie is so good and, unlike other obscure Christmas movies that grew a cult-like fanbase into mainstream popularity (A Christmas Story), still without a sizable American audience (even though it was nominated for the Best Animated Short Oscar in 1983), that I'll share it however I can. Whether it's on a computer monitor or in your living room (or both), you should ideally be wrapped in a blanket with a mug of hot cocoa. (Not hot chocolate. Hot cocoa.) If you're watching this at work, counting down the minutes until you can get away for the upcoming holidays, that's okay, too. (In fact, the movie might help.)

This might very well be my last post of the year, so I thought I'd wrap up my second year of blogging with one of my favorite movies...

Also check out: A Scrubbed-Up Charlie Brown Christmas (and a Christmassy Update!)
And: Sexy and Seasonal.


Best Music of 2007

Okay, maybe these aren't the "best" from a critical viewpoint. These are just my favorites...which makes them the best. Because I am the best. So there.

Aaaaand here we go! (In no particular order...)

Prince - "F.U.N.K." Yes, Prince released a perfectly fine album, Planet Earth, earlier this year that no one noticed. But because he's Prince and can do whatever the hell he wants, he also released this digital-only single in November. "F.U.N.K." lives up to its all-caps title: this is a monster-sized, 7-and-a-half minute funk jam, kicking off with an appropriately monster-sized guitar riff, followed by punches of horns and Prince's helium voice and ending with his stream-of-conscious monologue over a piano. This is not just Prince how we love him, it's Prince loving what he's doing.

Rihanna - "Shut Up and Drive" I know, I know. "Umbrella" was her ubiquitous hit single this year, you couldn't go anywhere without the "ella, ella, ella" ringing either in someone's stereo or your head, it was No. 1, blah blah blah. I prefer the second single from her album Good Girl Gone Bad. It's three and a half minutes of such perfect, slick, cheesy, catchy, danceable pop, I couldn't ask for her or her producers to improve upon it in any way. (The boring, uncreative video, on the other hand...) If you haven't completely spazzed out to this in the middle of a club after four too many vodka lemonades...well, then you're obviously not me.

KT Tunstall - "Beauty of Uncertainty" Kelly Clarkson's "Irvine," from her battle-scarred new album, My December, is indeed a surprisingly mature, dark ballad from the young singer. But for a truly haunting, cinematic piece of music, Tunstall's "Beauty of Uncertainty," from her sohophomore album Drastic Fantastic, elicits goosebumps. Play this on your iPod when walking down a sidewalk lined with autumn leaves or through a peacefull nighttime snowfall. When her vocals start to stack and swirl at a climax both ethereal and gritty, you'll be surrounded by echoing layers of poetry.

Kelly Clarkon - "Irivine" Oh, who am I kidding? Put this song on the list, too! It's really fucking good!

Junior Senior - "Can I Get Get Get" Jesus Christ, this list needs to lighten up before it kills itself. Luckily, Danish duo Junior Senior finally released their sophomore album after it came out two years ago in Japan. Lead single "Can I Get Get Get" combines not only their love for repetition but the slinky synths and guitars that make you want to clap your hands to the, well, synthesized handclaps. Whatever you want, yes you can can can.

Of Montreal - "Gronlandic Edit" If you like dancing to completely depressing songs about isolation and existentialism, then "Gronlandic Edit" is for you! The indie band comes up with a strangely danceable pop song with unending harmonies bursting like sunbeams in a prism while questioning the usual pop quandries like death and religion and beauty and stuff. Nerds like to dance, too, you know!

Feist - "My Moon My Man" If you want more sexy, moody indie pop, this highlight from iPod Nano superstar Feist is a must for you. In the video, when Feist breathily croons "Take it slow, take it easy on me" while seducing you with her sexy trenchcoat and military marching in an airport, you know she can handle the exact opposite. And how cute it is that, for someone who's album, The Remainder, is mostly ballads, she loves full-out choreography in her videos?

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals - "Mastermind" A while ago, I posted a query concerning the lack of new female rock stars. This year, I found at least one answer in Grace Potter & the Nocturnals. Not only does This Is Somewhere rock more often than not, they're even better live (the album doesn't actually capture just how good they can be, but hopefully the next one will). On this rocking, rollicking hightlight, Potter lays out the recipe for...enlightenment? Peace? Not sure, exactly. But when she belts out "1 part sugar, 2 parts feeling, 3 cups full of bottled lightning," you'll want to whip up a big batch of whatever she's cooking.

Mika - "Grace Kelly" With "Grace Kelly," Mika burst onto the scene with his flamboyant musicality and ambiguous sexuality. Even though he appeared on the cover of Out and sings songs about married men falling in love with men, he refused to reveal whether or not he's gay. (Ooh, the suspense!) So even if his personality is a little annoying, "Grace Kelly" is such a strangely giddy song about professional rejection you can't help but bop your head along. Even Stephen King likes it! And trust me, that man is fickle.

Office - "Oh My" If you prefer your pop with a dollop of rock, then buzzed indie band Office should probably be on your list. (Full disclosure, the owners for the magazine I write for also manage this band.) They not only finally released a full-length album, A Night at the Ritz, but a hilarious video for lead single "Oh My" where they spliced footage of themselves in with 80's porn (totally safe for work). I love the pounding drums and shimmering synths. Thank you, Office, for making it okay to dance at rock shows in Chicago!

Andrew Bird - "Imitosis" And then there's Andrew Bird, making it okay to scratch your chin philosophically at rock shows as you question life, love, relationships and the glockenspiel. Seriously, Bird plays so many instruments that it was only a matter of time before the glockenspiel made its way into his music. (Can you tell I love the word "glockenspiel?" It's second only to "smorgasboard.") As you can see in this live footage, Bird uses recording equipment to layer all the music right there in front of the crowd, each plunked violin string stacked on top of the next. The end result is a sad, quirky little number that gives you an idea of the musicality, melody and moods found on Armchair Apocrypha.

The Attorneys - "On A Whim" Another indie band with an ear for actual musicality, The Attorneys will hopefully release the video for this song soon. (One of the band members, John, actually emailed me when he saw on my blog that I was listening to their album, Stereocracy, and told me a video was in the works.) When I heard this pop/rock gem with the whimsical flourishes like a slide whistle, I was like, why don't I hear more music like this? The album is full of various influences, from Elvis Costello to Queen, but William Ryan George's incredibly strong, expressive voice carries you through the whole experience. It looks like they may change their name to Flying Machines, but whatever they're called, Stereocracy was unlike any other rock record I bought this year.

Amy Winehouse - "Me and Mr. Jones" You really couldn't get away from all the press regarding Winehouse's self-destructive behavior and relationship, but luckily all that hype actually serves a fantastic album (unlike other mediocre pop stars always hogging the pages of Us Weekly). Producer Mark Ronson updates Phil Spector's Wall of Sound for our generation, clearly honoring his sources without sounding derivative. But this show is all Winehouse, from her rich, cabernet voice to her seasoned songwriting. Sure, "Rehab" was a bigger hit and "Back to Black" is both beautiful and chilling, but "Me and Mr. Jones" really shows off Winehouse for the funny, sexy, crass, defiant, difficult creature she is. Hopefully she survives long enough to produce another album like Back to Black, one of the best of the year.

I think 13 is a good number to end, don't you? No? Oh, well then, here are some runner-ups I didn't feel like writing a whole damn essay about.

Britney Spears - "Toy Soldier" Easily the hottest song on Blackout.

Justice - "D.A.N.C.E." One of the biggest dance songs of the year, with a video to match.

The View - "Same Jeans" God, the way Scottish men role their r's is cute. So it this little anti-snob anthem.

Mark Ronson featuring Daniel Merriweather - "Stop Me" Ronson's own music doesn't get nearly as much exposure as the artists he produces (Winehouse, Joss Stone, etc.), but this cover of The Cure should have changed that.

James Morrison - "Pieces Don't Fit Anymore" More British blue-eyed soul (again: Winehouse, Stone, etc.), but Morrison has the goods: lyrics, music, smoky voice and timeless songs like this heartbroken ballad.

The Bird and the Bee - "Again & Again" One of my favorite records this year was from this indie duo. It's light, ethereal and, strangely enough, funny synth pop. While "Again & Again" isn't quite as good as "Fucking Boyfriend," there was no good video/audio of the latter, so the former (with lyrics like "say my name, say my name, say my stupid name") will have to do.

Okay, now we're done. Thanks, 2007, for filling my days with enough sonic goodness to crowd out the endless crap record companies insist on calling music.

Also check out: Top Five Art Moments of 2007.
And: Get Get Get Your Party Party On On.


Top Five Art Moments of 2007

Yes, I'm doing my own Best Of lists. Future posts might include such classic gems as "Best Music of 2007," "Best Books of 2007" and "Best Amy Sedaris Quotes of 2007." Yes, you're going to enjoy them, and that's that. Don't give me that attitude or we'll turn this blog right around and go home.

That's better. On to the not-at-all-comprehensive recollections of a totally amateur yet enthusiastic art seer/goer/observer/taker-in-er!

My year in art started at the Museum of Modern Art's Richard Serra exhibit, Sculpture: Forty Years in June. (I know, my "year in art" didn't start until halfway through - see "amateur" comment in previous paragraph.) As the title implies, this was a comprehensive survey of the artist. Serra's smaller sculptures seem to flout gravity and physics, making heavy metals seem as light as a penny and fragile as glass. But the real story is Serra's work with sheet metal. Huge, sprawling slabs are erected in swirling, angled mazes that, again, seemingly defy the laws of nature. As you walk through the twisting halls, your own sense of balance becomes compromised. This isn't art that forces the audience to question or engage with their relationship to it - this is art that will literally get inside your head, flicking your equilibrium like a light switch, as if reminding the materialistic modern world to appreciate and be awed by its powerful industrial roots.

I missed MoMa's Jeff Wall exhibit by about three weeks, so I was glad to catch it when it showed up at the Art Institute of Chicago. Wall's large, back-lit, incredibly detailed photographs often look candid but many are in fact staged, employing casts, crews and special effects. While some seem genuinely spontaneous, like Mimic, and some stretch the suspension of disbelief while still looking downright cool (for lack of a better word [and why shouldn't "cool" be good enough a word to describe art, anyway?]), like Milk, pictured above, in some the artist insinuates himself to the forefront. Sure, The Flooded Grave, pictured left, looks great, with its open grave filled with sealife, but you can't help noticing the falsity of the moment. Is that the point? Even more distracting is the inconsistent seams that appear through the exhibit in Wall's larger, panoramic works. Some had clearly visible seams, some didn't. Were they unintentional? Or just more of Wall making us question not just the art itself, but the process of how he created it? (As opposed to say, Barry Frydlender, exhibited at MoMa at the same time as Serra. Frydlender's large, digitally composited photographs were perfectly seamless.) Worthwhile questions, to be sure - I still haven't figured out how I feel about it all. Like filling, stick-to-your-ribs food, this is stick-to-your-mind art, provocative not just for the (often beautiful) end product, but the means Wall used to get there.

In a stroke of a good luck, another photographer, Richard Misrach, was showing at the AIC at the same time as Wall. The AIC was the first museum to collect 20 of Misrach's beach-themed photographs into an exhibit that began a two-year tour. On the Beach showcased large, color photographs of seaside portraits, with the photographer somehow magically floating above the scenes at incredible heights like a voyeuristic angel. The photos often have no horizon and just one or two people either on the sand or floating in the water, presenting a beautiful, strangely peaceful post-apocalyptic (post-9/11?) world. Walking through the narrow halls of the AIC's basement, surrounded by Misrach's expansive shots of endless waves of water, it was serene, melancholy and creepy all at the same time.

On a cold November evening, my friend Laura and I hopped over to the River East Arts Center for Red Bull's The Art of Can exhibit. Yes, you read that right. Red Bull, the liquid crack of energy drinks, hosted a touring art exhibit with sculptures primarily featuring - what else? - Red Bull cans. This appealed on numerous levels: using the Official Sponsor of Underagers, All-Night Ravers and Wannabe Playas to make pop art; the contrast of a cheesy, nasty-smelling, chemical-laden beverage and the occasionally beautiful art made out of its cans; and the potential awfulness of it all. High on a mixture of invigorating winter chills and numerous vodka and Red Bulls (smells like feet!) provided by the gallery, Laura and I toured the many attempts of making treasure out of trash. Some succeeded, like the hovering, fluid, mythic dragon, and some failed, like the uncreative flower-blooming-out-of-a-Red-Bull-can. (Seriously? That's all you could come up with?) These mostly small, shiny objects were like DIY toys - not all art has to take itself seriously, right? But we were the real winners, as where else could you get drunk enough to both enjoy product placement art and blatantly mock said art under the alibi of said drunkeness?

My year in art closed recently with a quick bus ride over to Western Exhibitions, a small studio space in an isolated Chicago warehouse. John Parot's Biological Exuberance, influenced by and named after Bruce Bagemhi's book documenting gay behavior in animals, explores the mating rituals of modern gay men. Multimedia wall art featured cookie-cutter, mask-like faces (using the eyes and mouths from pictures of real-life models and porn stars cut out of magazines) playing out predator and prey roles. Floor installations group Diet Coke cans, whiskey and wine bottles and porn tapes, memorializing clichés that become even more interesting when tied to pink ropes attached to the wall, as if they're bait used to lure the unsuspecting. Most disturbing is Parot's use of color and 80's reference points: black paint drips down over Dead Can Dance and Velvet Underground paraphernalia and very 80's colors like hot pinks and electric blues, like how the death scare of AIDS began to overwhelm gay nightlife in the 80's. An interesting, if not entirely original, concept (human mating rituals mimic those found in nature) is served with a twist, if you will.

Okay, we made it! That wasn't too bad, was it? Everyone get out and take a bathroom break because we have a few more Best Of lists to go, coming up soon.

Also check out: Black and White and....
And: Blood, Boys and Bambinas.


Feedback on Janet Jackson's "Feedback"

Is there anyone who can disappoint us like our idols? Is it even fair to be disappointed if an artist's new work can't compare to her prime years? Should we just take her new work on its own terms, as a sign of where she is today as opposed to where we want her to be?

So many serious questions for just one new song, especially a song so desperate not to be taken seriously. Janet Jackson's newest single, "Feedback," from her upcoming album, Discipline, leaked online yesterday. (If you go to her new website, it starts playing automatically.) It's a funky, electro-pop club-banger with a music-as-sex metaphor. "Strum me like a guitar, blow up my amplifier," she demands. "Crank it up, give it to me some more...I want some feedback! Feedback!"

The song is getting understandably mixed reviews: It's hot, it'll be great in the clubs or for working out, finally Janet is competing with Britney and Rihanna for the dancefloor and the pop charts. Or: it's not hot, there's way too much vocoder, doesn't anyone actually sing anymore?, Janet shouldn't have to compete with Britney or Rihanna.

Both sides have a point. This is a hot song. Producer Rodney Jerkins gives it heavy percussion and some fat, juicy synths. This is what you want to hear at 2 a.m. when grinding on that stranger after too many rum and Cokes. But, at the same time, people expect more from Janet than just a modern yet generic dance song that sounds like a cast-off from Britney's Blackout. Jerkins, in his urge to put Janet back on the dancefloor, was too eager to make sure Janet's doing what everyone else is doing. He forgot he was working with Janet motherfuckin' Jackson. Janet's sound has never been especially trendy. Listening to Rhythm Nation 1814 or The Velvet Rope doesn't illuminate the musical landscape of their times, it just illuminates what Janet was doing at the time (and what her longtime producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were doing to complement it). "Feedback" just tells us that Jerkins picked a track he could have used for anyone - a good track, mind you - and gave it to Janet. (I'm also pretty sure he wants the phrase "feedback" to be 2008's "sexyback." We'll see.)

So what does "Feedback" tell us about where she is in her life now? Um, she still feels sexy. So, good for Janet, yawn for the rest of us. Wasn't it great when Janet had actually had something to say? She doesn't have the pipes of Mariah or the media manipulation skills of Madonna, but Janet used to actually have ideas and thoughts, some even tough or challenging for the normally superficial world of diva pop. In "Feedback," when the lyrics aren't generic, they're downright strange. "Flyer than a pelican"? I didn't know pelicans are fly. With those enlarged pouches underneath their breaks, I always thought of them as the deformed, goiter-afflicted cousin to the supa-dupa fly swan. And "my swag is serious, I'm heavy like a first-day period?" For real? Janet, it's called a Rough Draft. Just because you think it, or just because you write it down, does not mean it should make it to the Final Draft, you know? As you so directly demanded during an interlude in Rhythm Nation: Edit.

Looking ahead, what does "Feedback" tell us about the album? (Especially considering the title Discipline doesn't tell us anything.) Her strongest lead singles have always told us what to expect from their sources. 1986's "What Have You Done for Me Lately" gave us both the defiant young woman and Jam & Lewis' heavy beats that dominated Control. 1993's "That's the Way Love Goes" introduced the softer, warmer, sexier sounds on janet. And 2001's "All For You" revealed Janet's new post-depression, post-divorce liberation covered on All For You. So what should we get from "Feedback"'s ridiculous overuse of the vocoder - that Janet is so intent on objectifying herself that she's reduced herself to something barely human? Or that she and Jenkins are both lazy?

Also, now that Janet's signed with a new record label, her boyfriend Jermaine Dupri's Island Records, it will be interesting to see how they market her compare to Virgin, her previous label. Many fans were upset with how badly Virgin could screw up even a solid Janet record (only 3 singles from All For You?), but I'm not sure Dupri is objective enough to work his magic with his girlfriend the way he can with her competitor, Mariah Carey (Dupri engineered her major comeback a few years ago). Is "Feedback" the official first single from Discipline or are they just throwing it out there to whet fans' appetites and get some, well, feedback on Janet's new direction? It's still almost two months before the album actually drops on Feb. 26, 2008 and "Feedback" hasn't even been released to radio yet. Will there be a video? Will people be sick of it by the time they see her perform it again and again during her inevitable onslaught of media performances in February?

As for that new promo pic, seen here above: too much Photoshop, I'm over the bangs and the clothes? Like a hooker in A.I.: Kubrick up top, Spielberg on the bottom. The weird thing is, that sounds like I hate it. I don't. But again, like the entire booklet included with 20 Y.O., this is a pretty straightforward magazine editorial, not an iconic, memorable image for a new Janet Jackson album.

With "Feedback"'s futuristic (read: modern with an ego) sound and the plethora of new producers working on Discipline, it sounds like Janet's trying to step up her game. Here's hoping they're actually paying attention to "Feedback"'s feedback so they can make her flyer than a pelican, swan, pigeon, booby, or any other aviatic creature they find so strangely hip.

Also check out: Mag Hag Reviews the News.
And: What Do I Call Her if I'm Not Nasty?


A Scrubbed-Up Charlie Brown Christmas (and a Christmassy Update!)

So this is actually a few years old, I guess, but I just found it. The cast of Scrubs dubbed over and edited that perennial holiday classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas. At first it just seems pretty straight-forward, but then it gets sassy, raunchy, and downright perversive. I especially like the new, smooth-talking Schroeder, the flashbacks to Christmas parties past and the crowd's one-liners upon seeing Charlie Brown's pathetic tree. ("Time to deck the halls with your incompetence.") It probably helps to actually know the characters on the sitcom, but I don't and I still enjoyed it.

*UPDATE - Speaking of Christmas traditions being tampered with, did you know that in 1994 they made a sequel to the modern-day classic, A Christmas Story? They called it My Summer Story (ugh) with Charles Grodin (eh) as the dad, Mary Steenburgen (love!) as the mom and Kieran Culkin (wasn't he, like, 3 years old in 1994?) as Ralphie. Like A Christmas Story, this one is based on short stories by Jean Shepard. Unlike A Christmas Story, this one has not snowballed from obscure, cultish hit into mainstream popularity.

Wow, Hollywood, yet another reason to hate you.

Also check out: Sexy and Seasonal.
And: Multimedia Love.


Emmy, Enya. Enya, Emmy.

With little television or radio airplay to support it, actress Emmy Rossum quietly released her first album, Inside Out, this past October. You may know her from The Phantom of the Opera or The Day After Tomorrow or, based on the album's sales, browsing the bargain bin at Wal-Mart.

The strange thing isn't that a young, cute actress wanted a singing career. Remember the stunning vocal stylings of one Lindsay Lohan? Or Jennifer Love Hewitt? Or Raven Simone? The weird thing is that Rossum has been classically trained since she was, like, an embryo and yet she eschewed classical music in favor of what she calls "pop." Interesting, since she doesn't even have a very high opinion of pop right now. She told Glamour, "I'm so frustrated listening to the radio these days. There is so little emotional honesty" (which is way more blunt and interesting than anything she says in her songs, all of which she co-wrote). Her website even claims: "With a lush, sensual style, Emmy Rossum sings every note on her debut album." Wow! Every note? How far do they think pop has sunk for that to be an accomplishment for a singer?

So it's not Britney pop, or even Vanessa Carlton pop. Strangely enough, it's adult contemporary, lite-FM pop. There's a reason Amazon lists her album with Josh Groban and Celine Dion. You know how seven years ago, everyone was wondering if Britney or Christina would be the next Madonna? Well, climbing her way to the seat of a very lonely throne, Emmy might just be the next generation's Enya - pretty voice multiplied dozens of times in one song, musically competent, a little boring. (Of course, Enya's major hit, "Orinoco Flow," was so long ago, the next generation is like, "who?")

Just take a look at Emmy's first video, "Slow Me Down." Proving that even classy girls need to show a little skin, she rolls around on a bed and runs slow-motion-ly down the street. But there's no choreography, no sweat, no explicit sexual overtures. It's all youthful bewilderment about how she just wants someone to take her hand, slow her down and show her love. I like how, despite her sweet, girl-next-door vibe, it's all directed to just "someone." Not too picky there, eh? For someone so disdainful of the debased sensibilities of her contemporaries, Emmy is awfully nonchalant about anyone just reaching out and grabbing her. You know a hundred creepy basement boys are going to end up with restraining orders and be all, "well, she said 'anyone'."

Even stranger is that Emmy's first single is a capella (that means "with a tiny cape" for the musically disinclined). According to a press release, she recorded approximately 150 different (incredibly breathy) vocal lines for the song. Even with no music, the song still feels overproduced and metallic, like all the sharp edges were buffed and her vocal chords were shellacked with corn syrup. Still, it's definitely a different direction for a young, wannabe-pop star, especially one with such a low opinion of her musical context.

If she actually duets with either Dion or Groban, she could be huge. (Hell, even John Tesh would help at this point.) If not, she can at least take pride in knowing she sits on the most pristine throne in the Young Female Pop Singer universe. It just might also be the smallest, too.

Also check out: It's Britney's (Inner) Bitch.
And: Why I Hate Hollywood.