Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I Am So, So, Sorry.

Unless you happen to be one those exhausting “Well, if everyone likes it, then I refuse to, and yes, that’s exactly why I don’t eat shrimp” types (upon which, um…hi!), it’s very hard to find something bad to say about the iPod (well, omnipresent ads aside, because did any of us really need “Lose Yourself” stuck in our heads for another two months?) The pluses are easy: Its ability to fit more than every song I’ve got means that I don’t have to decide whether I’m in the mood for Manilow or Diamond, before I leave the house. Also, the included headphones are an excellent self-defense against unwanted conversation, which I’m sure anyone who relies on public transportation can appreciate, as buses and subways seem to attract the sort of people who talk to you without even realizing they’re doing so, while still expecting you to nod along. And, heck, even that one time my iPod broke, Apple took it and fixed it so quickly – forcing me to rely on my skiptastic CD player for only a day (which was tough, because when I’m not traveling by bus, I usually go by pogo stick) – that I’m guessing they simply had to point a wand at it and shout “Reparo!”

But then, there is one negative side-effect to the iPod's “fits everything, goes everywhereness.” Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever “hung out” with a “group of friends” before, but when you do, there’s a good chance that your eventual lack of things to talk about will result in a passing around of the iPods. Because it’s a cool thing, everyone being able to carry their entire music library in their pocket, and an even cooler thing to be able to compare said libraries with each other. Still, as you hand your iPod off, you will likely find yourself with a sudden and growing seed of despair in the pit of your stomach – the feeling that this room full of people will, in just a short time, be passing around your soul, your deepest, darkest secrets just moments away from going public. Because I think that every person’s music collection features at least five items that he’d dare not show to anyone, songs that maybe even he never chooses to listen to, songs that, out of context, can counteract 2,457 other tracks from bands-you’ve-never-heard-of, forcing him to explain, for the rest of his life, why his “Artists” list would have anything in common with that of your 11 year-old sister. And…this paragraph stopped being about the all-inclusive “you” quite some time ago…didn’t it? Well, it’s too late to turn back, now. So, with that in mind, I not-so-proudly present:

The Top 5 Things I Will Never Admit to Having On My iPod
And the Explanations that I Know Won’t Make It Any Better

1. The Backstreet Boys – Okay, so maybe this would be more humiliating in 1998 than it is now, but, like I said, out of context, these things just don’t look very good. And I know that using the “I…only have that CD because my sister does” excuse is almost as middle-school as having to explain why you have a Backstreet Boys CD in the first place, but, well…that’s where it starts, at least. Because if I didn’t spend the back half of the ‘90s in an environment where “the BSB” beat out my Blink-182-or-whatever on most long car rides, I can almost guarantee you that there wouldn’t be Backstreet Boys on my iPod right now. Which isn’t to say my excuse is: “Way back before this thing was even invented, my sister listened to boy bands, and now, nine years later, omigosh, how did that get on there?! Heh…heh, heh…” No, the fact is that growing up with “I Want It That Way” stuck in my head led me to acquire what I will fully admit is now my own fondness for the shiny, happy, please-don’t-judge-me-for-listening-to-this brand of pop music that is best exemplified by songs like the Backstreet Boys’ “I Just Want You to Know.” And, while I’m hoping I put up a good argument for this one, I’m warning you…it gets worse.

2. Alanis Morissette’s “Head Over Feet” – But not yet, it doesn’t. Because, depending on who you are, you might not see anything particularly incriminating about this particular entry. But then, if you’re me, you’ll notice that “Alanis Morissette” is one of the first things to show up on your alphabetical “Artists” list, and then you’ll remember that kinda smurfy video for the song, and suddenly you realize that you’re humming along with lyrics like, “You treat me like…I’m a princess/I’m not used to…liking thaaa-aaa-at.” So, yeah. If it was “Ironic” it wouldn’t have made the list, as that has a more obvious ‘90s-nostalgia air to it. But the fact that I’m actually glad when this song comes on made me feel like it was worth coming clean about.

3. Hanson’s “Underneath” – Yes. That Hanson. I don’t know if it’s less embarrassing, or more so, that I’m actually talking about their most recent album (as in, I was pretty much who I am now, when this came out), rather than, like, “Mmmbop” but…they’re actually a very different band then they were when I was in middle school, and I can’t deny that, if they just appeared with this album, I’d probably be listening to it with a straight face. It’s just sort of enjoyable poppy-alternative music, and I’m very sorry, except that I’m not. But they are considered “indie,” now, so, as college-age kids, aren’t we sort of legally obligated to like them, anyway?

4. Ashlee Simpson’s “Pieces of Me”/Lindsay Lohan’s “Over” – They get grouped together for being songs that I hate myself for liking by people that I don’t even like. But “Pieces of Me” is one of those songs that was all over place, one summer, therefore gaining points by: A. Forcing itself upon us during the season that’s all about the guilty pleasures and B. Eventually reminding me of that summer, and…you know how it is, with songs that take you back to the summertime – it’s the only reason anyone remembers who LFO was, anymore. “Over,” meanwhile…well, I don’t know how to defend myself, here. It’s just such a melodramatic, over-the-top ballad which found its way onto my computer because of that fact. You know, with the, “tell me that it’s…ov-ERR-ER!” Just: Ha.

5. Aaron Carter – Wow, it’s dark down here, at the bottom of the barrel. But really: I have a little sister who, once upon a time, was even littler, and therefore, subjected me to Aaron Carter, who, in turn, taught me that there’s nothing funnier than a 12 year-old white boy trying to rap. And, no, I don’t remember what crazy conversation led to my decision to put an Aaron Carter song on my computer of one-and-a-half years, and, no, I never press “play” on said song, to remind myself of how he beat Shaq, and, actually, the only reason why I never bothered to uncheck the little box that puts him on my iPod in the first place is because, well, as long as it’s there, I won’t hide it. Yes, world, right in-between “A.C. Newman” and “Adrienne Pierce,” there is Aaron Carter on my iPod! Feel free to kick me out of your Cool Club.

Wow, that actually felt good – I feel like I could finally rest my head on something real. But, really, what’s the worst your music library has to offer? Feel free to comment, below. After all, I’m certainly in no position to judge.

Background noise: Wilco's "Heavy Metal Drummer." An awesome song, to make up for all the bad ones I just got stuck in your head.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

I'm Open! I'm Open? Why Am I OPEN?!

So, it’s no secret that, when it comes to being good at sports, I’m not. Fine, understatement – because it’s no secret that, when it comes to being good at sports, I get two strikes by swinging twice before the first pitch, and then nearly decapitate the catcher when the ball actually reaches the plate. I accidentally pass the football to someone on the other team, and that someone is the mascot, and you’d think I’d realize that the giant-headed bulldog was playing for the team that was named after him, but then, you’d be wrong. I dribble from the opposite side of the court, taking a shot with only five seconds left in the game, scoring a basket from the three point line, while an entire gymnasium shouts, “We’re playing indoor soccer!”

Okay, so, overstatement, now, but my point is: I have the hand-eye coordination of a snake. And I’m okay with that. Well, I’m okay with that so long as you never ever force me to relive Gym Class: Grades One through Eight-or-So, again, because…middle school gym class? Scariest 45 minutes of any given day (which is saying a lot, because you should try the cafeteria food, am I right, people?). I mean, even now, I wonder how they continue to force kids who, quite obviously, were not made for throwing and catching and serving and dodging to attempt to do exactly that, in front of an entire room of possible friends. How do they stick someone whose primary method of exercise is marching band on the same team as the guy who punches lockers in when he loses? How could they say something like, “Alright, it’s guys day, and we’re going to try wrestling, but if you can’t make it past the first step, there’s a ping-pong table set up in the hallway…” and not realize the potential for embarrassment? Is the fear in some kids’ eyes too hard for gym teachers to make out, what with the goggles that they force anyone with glasses to wear? And, by the way – wear your glasses and put on these Mr. Wizard goggles, or take them off and continue to pass the basketball to that particularly person-looking garbage can over there – really, what kind of options are those? And doesn’t the fact that, seven years later, I still feel the need to write paragraphs about this prove something? I mean, besides about myself?

But…again – I’m okay with it. In fact, since I never got to have a Bar Mitzvah, nor watch my evil uncle, against whom I would one day swear vengeance, push my father into a stampede of wildebeest, I think the moment that I became a man might have been when I made the sudden realization that my only hope of survival was to embrace my complete uselessness when it came to sports, therefore acquiring self-awareness, which in turn, works as a preliminary strike against any would-be attackers, because if you’re already making fun of how much you suck at football, what the heck could they really to do to you?

Wait. How did this whole thing go from being about how I can’t catch a pop fly to a self-analyzation on the lasting effect of would-be childhood trauma, and the way it has affected the way I approach both myself and the world? Ew, let’s not let that happen, ever again.

But, hey, I think we all learned a valuable lesson, today: If at first you don’t succeed, at least learn how to succeed at not succeeding. Or something.

Background noise: The Decemberist’s The Sporting Life. People don’t write enough straightforward songs about completely random topics, but this is great one. Likewise, the few Decemberist songs that are really good are…well, exactly that, so I hope their next album features 75% less pirate shanties and more “real” tracks, because, sure, if I wanted to listen to pirate shanties I’d probably choose theirs, but when does that mood ever strike me, ya know?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

It's Duck Soup For You Yegs.

Right, so this was supposed to mark another entry in the What I’m Whatevering department, but then I realized I had enough to say about one thing that to continue with the rest of the list would be to keep all of us here much longer than any of us want to be, and so…yeah, now it’s just Movie Recommendation Time!

And that movie? Is Brick. Because Brick? Was awesome in italics – even after my looking forward to it for almost a year, which I know makes me sound pathetic, but it’s not like I was putting big, red “X’s” on my wall calendar, counting down the days, or anything – it’s just, I heard about it, and it took a year to come out. It’s not like I didn’t have expectations (see: the links section on the side), which it definitely lived up to, is all I’m saying. And it’s been a while since I’ve had a movie to obsess over (Batman? Star Wars? Fun, but…ya know), so bear with me.

Okay, so, be a good movie set in high school, and you’ve already won me over (if you think I’m kidding, Mean Girls was on my Top 5 Movies of Whatever-Year-It-Came-Out List). The same goes for being a good mystery (Encyclopedia Brown and I go way back). But do both at the same time, and I promise to name my kid after you. And Brick, poor kid, is a detective story set in high school – Brendan’s ex-girlfriend turns up dead-in-the-first-few-seconds-so-I-didn’t-give-anything-away, and he sets out to figure out why, running into all manner of shifty situations and entertainingly disreputable characters along the way. And, yeah, that makes it sound a lot like Veronica Mars (at least, if you know what Veronica Mars sounds like, watch Veronica Mars), but, if anything, the two are more comparable in the fact that they both have a plot and dialogue that are packed – forcing you to pay attention while guaranteeing that you’ll want to, anyway – than they are in any other fashion (as Brick doesn’t really revolve around the mystery in the same way, its being more about the quest than the question). But, right, enough with the comparing two things that you probably haven’t seen, yet (though, if you have, let me know, and your name goes to the next kid).

Because what really makes Brick awesome (or, "even more awesome") is that the whole thing looks, feels and sounds like those old noir mystery stories and movies, which, if you don’t know, is to say like…ugh, is the most recent, reliable comparison we have for “film noir” really those Flonase commercials? Um – okay, you know those old black-and-white movies, with the private eyes and the mean, lonely streets and the “You’re gonna close your head, drop the dame and scram, else I squirt metal” [i.e. You’re gonna shut up, let go of the girl and get outta here or I shoot]? You know (random) but the kind of thing Roger Rabbit was paying tribute to? Right, so that’s what this is, but instead of being a parody or even an homage to some old movies, it really creates its own world, with its own rules and language (no, really, they even hand you a cool little Brick Talk glossary when you walk in, I’m not even kidding), a world that's somewhere in-between old detective movies and a modern-day high school. And while that could have gone horribly “Kids Playing Dress Up” wrong (or, “How Independent-Film of You to Spend More Time Trying to Get Cool Points for Style, While Forgetting About the Story?” wrong) the movie tells a great story, with great characters, all while having enough confidence in its unusual self that everything stays right, preempting any possible questions (Why are these kids talking like that? Why are their parents letting this happen? Why is any of this allowed to go on at a high school?) with a “because we said so” that keeps you from wondering, in the first place.

, in case I bored you, up there, and you skipped to the end – all I’m saying is that Brick is completely cool, and, once it makes it into more theaters, you’d do best to go see it. It’s the sort of movie that I inadvertently find myself writing more-than-one paragraph about. It’s the sort of movie that you inadvertently find yourself pretending you’re in, in your head, as you walk out of the theater (you know what I mean…uh, right?). It’s the sort of movie that I wish I made (and, actually, it kind of resembles a story that I did make, before I even knew this existed, but don’t worry, they’re different enough that I won’t get sued, if I ever learn how to write a decent mystery).

Oh, and its super-cool, no-nonsense main character makes an excellent case for quiet outsiders who wear glasses. Which, I suppose, might explain why I liked it so much…

Background Noise: Well, the soundtrack. Easy, this time.