Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Memory on the Rocks

My friend Rocky Rocker has woken up to a rock and roll nightmare.

Perhaps he banged his head too much, because he’s having a hard day’s night remembering the precise names of the bands he loves. For example, he brags that he rocks out to ASSASSINATED AUSTRIAN ARCHDUKE when he means to say FRANZ FERDINAND, and he rambles on about 12 A.M. LUBRICANT when he tries to tell us about MIDNIGHT OIL.

Help Rocky recall the true names of his ten favorite groups of yesterday and today. You won’t earn any prize here … but you will finally get some satisfaction.

1. Female Sovereign

2. Inexpensive Ploy

3. Speaking Skulls

4. Uncomplicated Intellects

5. Evil Circle of Companions

6. Packed Residence

7. The Temperamental Azures

8. Colorless Weekly Religious Celebration

9. Firearms and Valentine’s Day Flowers

10. Calamitous Passage

Rocky is looking forward to seeing your answers in the comments. And he’s also eager to read any of your own “misremembered band names” that you’d like to offer!

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Times They Are A-Wastin'

We all find ways to waste time.

Maybe you daydream about exciting vacations, lost loves, or good desserts. You might gossip with a friend about another friends—who you call, in turn, to gossip about the first friend.

Some of you even find yourselves reading blog posts about ways to waste time.

All these things added up, though, aren’t matching the appetite Americans continue to have for television programming despite all the new media. According to this article in the Los Angeles Times, we are watching the boob tube more and more.

I’ll admit to watching more TV than ever before. Most of it serves as nothing more than interesting background noise while I write, however, and only a few current programs capture any of my attention.

So I was shocked to read that the average household had the TV on almost eight and quarter hours per day during the 2005-06 season—increasing three minutes from the year before and up a stunning 59 minutes per day from ten years ago.

And we wonder why we’re becoming more obese as a nation.

If television if this addictive, let’s use the technology to our advantage. We have iPods with video now … so why not have a TV headset that puts a hands-free screen about 12 inches in front of your face.

This way, you can go for a walk, a jog, or a workout without missing your favorite show. Even better, we'll make it waterproof to enable swimmers to get their fix while exercising.

I’m slowly becoming convinced we should watch the tube while driving, too, because the drivers in this area can’t get much worse anyway. And who knows, if we replace all the distractions like eating, drinking, cell phone-talking, and CD-swapping with a projected TV image on the windshield, at least drivers will be looking forward. The roads might actually become safer.

Especially if they’re watching Cops.

P.S. While we’re on the subject of television, please take time after you leave a comment here to check out my guest post about the show Lost over at Janet’s site, The Art of Getting By. It’s one of the better blogs out there—and I believed that even before she stooped so low as to let me write something for her. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Fax of Life

There are two basic approaches to life.

Many of us love anything new and different. The future brings hope and improvement; we look forward to technological advances even more impressive than plasma TV, the iPod, and blogs.

On the other hand, some of us hang on to the past with as much zeal as Tom Cruise hangs onto roles that make him younger than his actual mid-40s. Untested novelties bring danger; security comes from the familiar.

We know where Canton, Ohio’s Ester Strogen comes down on this question—she has rented two old-school rotary telephones for nearly 50 years. Until this summer, she was still paying her phone company more than $100 a year to rent the phones that most of us barely remember.

Yes, that’s right—she has coughed up thousands of dollars over the years to avoid touch-tone phones.

Her family is upset that the phone company appears to have been taking advantage of Ester and other aging folks who simply don’t think through the ultimate cost of renting equipment versus buying it.

So what about other supposedly obsolete communications technology?

The Pony Express. Horses and mail are one hell of a combination. Why did we ever get rid of this? Mounted mail delivery makes sense—especially when you’re driving along, minding your own business, and a motorized postal vehicle pulls out from the curb, right in front of you, almost causing a damn wreck and killing you! (Not that this would happen, of course.)

The letter. Maybe there’s no need for the mail anyway. People used to write letters to each other; now my mailbox fills up with credit card offers and Bed, Bath, and Beyond 20% coupons. Let’s bring back the art form of the letter and get rid of quickly written and often useless e-mails.

The fax machine. Jammed paper, slow delivery, fuzzy documents … the fax machine may be one of the worst inventions since Scientology. In a world of scanners and e-mail attachments, why do we still have these miserable creations?

I’m still waiting for the day when we can communicate by thought alone. All those science fiction stories and Star Trek episodes I enjoyed while growing up had me convinced that by now we’d have telepathic skills, flying cars, and gorgeous green-skinned women.

I haven’t seen any of these. I’m more likely to see a rotary phone.

Speaking of which, if you are still renting equipment from your phone company, I suggest that you buy yourself a cheap phone and send the company a note telling them to stop charging you.

Make sure it's a letter—not an e-mail. And don’t send it by fax.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Hearty Constitution

In the United States, we celebrate our patriotism a lot.

There’s the Fourth of July, of course, when we revel in our independence from those evil British overlords. (Sorry Ben—they brainwash us over here.) And in February we have Washington’s Birthday a.k.a. President’s Day a.k.a. George Washington Day, at least in Virginia.

Don’t forget Patriot Day. That’s the official designation of September 11—although I suspect schoolchildren 50 years from now will still be calling it “9/11” more than anything else.

But do you recognize the importance of September 17?

If you’re a teacher, you probably do. The law creating Constitution Day directs all schools in the U.S. that accept federal funding to offer a constitutionally oriented educational program of some variety on that day or the nearest weekday.

You may not be sold on the idea of another federal holiday. Especially when it doesn’t even give you the day off of work.

It might sit a bit easier if you view the day as a celebration of fundamental rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Like freedom of speech.

It was on September 17, in 1967, that Jim Morrison of The Doors exercised his freedom of speech, defying the powers-that-be at CBS by singing, “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” live on The Ed Sullivan Show.

So let’s cherish Constitution Day as yet another opportunity to pat ourselves on the back as a nation. Do it for liberty. Do it for freedom.

Do it for Jim Morrison.

P.S. Ben—Jim was a Yank ... so you can do it for John, Paul, George, and Ringo. They loved the Constitution, too. After all, the White Album did include “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill (of Rights).”

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What Are Words For?

My love of misheard lyrics is well known.

It provided the basis of one of my most popular posts, and I still love discovering new sets of “wrong” words. Like this classic garble of the line “Smoke on the water/Fire in the sky” from Deep Purple:

“Slow-motion Walter, fire-engine guy.”

But I’m not going to write about misheard lyrics today. Instead, I’m moving to something important. Something deep. Something more meaningful.

Real lyrics.

Having removed myself from the world of pop music years ago, I had no idea until I binged last month on Top 40 and MTV that today’s hit songs contain such an amazing diversity of verbiage. I’d like to report just a few things that I heard.

Let’s start at one extreme. Look at two of today’s biggest songs—big hitters on the pop charts, on the iTunes download list, and on my list of videos-I’ll-turn-the-sound-off-and-watch.

First, a few words from the song “Buttons” by the Pussycat Dolls:

I’m tellin’ you loosen up my buttons baby
But you keep frontin’
Sayin’ what you gonna do to me
But I ain’t seen nothin’

OK, so it rhymes … and it’s vaguely English. Who knows—maybe this will be one of Hilary’s ads in the 2008 election.

But these lyrics gotta step off, cuz here comes Fergie with “London Bridge.” Absorb this sample of her poetry:

I’m Fergie Ferg
Give me love you long time

And another example from her song, edited slightly for any visitors surfing the Web from their elementary schools:

I’m such a lady but I’m dancing like a ho
Because you know what, I don’t give a f--k, so here we go!

It’s at this point that I wonder why Western civilization dominates the world.

Remember, though, that was only one extreme. This isn’t the whole story. Far from it.

Take a look at these lyrics from another recent big hit, a song that made it to #1 on US Modern Rock chart. These words come from “Only” by Nine Inch Nails:

I’m losing focus
Kind of drifting into the abstract
In terms of how I see myself

Great. So we’ve gone from humpty-hump idiocy to barely comprehensible psychobabble. Probably a step forward, although it’s hard to judge when you’re suffering from lingual whiplash.

But I really shouldn’t complain.

After all, my formative musical memories were forged, on one side, by the lyrical blur of songs such as “Wrapped Around your Finger” by The Police, featuring lines like:

You consider me the young apprentice
Caught between the Scylla and Charybdis

Other life lessons were learned from tunes like “Rock Me Amadeus,” “The Safety Dance,” and “I Wanna Be a Cowboy.”

And I turned out normal. Didn’t I?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Rock and Roll Royalty

Some of my favorite music growing up was classic rock.

There was so much diversity among the more progressive rock bands in particular. Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Rush, and other artists crossed boundaries, recording albums (and even individual songs) that incorporated elements of the blues, jazz, orchestral music, and even English folk into their rock.

One group took this meshing of styles to a whole new level: Queen.

Sadly, many people around the world today know Queen less for its music than for Freddie Mercury’s flamboyance—and his death from AIDS in 1991. His lifestyle choice and dramatic death ten years ago this November continue to have effects even now.

Take, for example, what just happened in Zanzibar.

Last week, Islamist protests on this Tanzanian island where Mercury was born 60 years ago (as Farrokh Bulsara) led organizers to cancel a proposed birthday bash. The opponents argued that the late singer’s lifestyle offends most of Zanzibar’s Muslim majority and threatened to demonstrate en masse if planners held the party.

Never mind that Zanzibar is home to a popular Mercury-themed restaurant anyway. Never mind that the celebration sought to raise money for HIV/AIDS victims on the island, regardless of their views of the singer’s music or the way he behaved.

To restore some sense of balance to the universe, I offer these tidbits that you may not have known about Queen’s frontman:

  • Freddie Mercury may have been the world’s first Persian and Indian rock star, having been born to Parsi parents—Zoroastrians of Persian descent in India.

  • His voice spanned four octaves despite his lack of formal vocal training.

  • Mercury designed the heraldic Queen logo, using the artistic skill he mastered while gaining a degree in art and graphic design.

  • He wrote most of the band’s biggest hits—ranging from simple tunes like “We Are the Champions” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” to complex songs like “Bicycle Race” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Whatever you think of his lifestyle, Freddie Mercury was one of the greatest. He inspired many of the best acts of the 80s, 90s, and today. He was a talented and amazing artist.

Sadly, in much of the world, it’s not always about the music.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Space Invaders

Some of my favorite bloggers have referred to end-of-the-world scenarios recently.

Maybe they’re trying to tell us something. Or perhaps it’s just the pop-culture ripple effect from what apparently was a fascinating 20/20 special report last week on doomsday scenarios.

Either way, this—and catching a few seconds of K-Fed’s debut video—started me thinking about how all of us could die.

When younger, before I learned to appreciate the logic of deterrence, I grew up fearing that nuclear war would end the human race.

It was the 80s. Everyone thought the Soviet Union might—just might—go toe-to-toe with the West on a nuclear battlefield rather than admit its own failure to keep up. Or spur the demise of Western civilization by inspiring increasingly dull James Bond movies.

The Soviet threat ended, of course, but the years since have brought us new potential apocalyptic dangers. Nasty contagious diseases, supervolcanoes, or terrorists with chemical weapons seem more treacherous these days.

So do white rappers looking eerily like Vanilla Ice.

But all these are child’s play compared to threats from outer space. Watching too many Discovery Channel documentaries lately has reduced me to a shadow of my former self.

I’m screaming in my sleep. Shaking in my boots. Peeing in my pants. (Yes, long-time readers—the black leather ones. A tragedy, I know.)

Life on our planet, they tell us, will suffer a heinous end from one of any number of astronomical perils that we’re powerless to prevent.

Take black holes. If one of these monsters comes anywhere near our part of the galaxy, its gravitational powers will wreak havoc on our solar system and maybe even pull us past the point of no return.

Let’s hope K-Fed gets tugged away first.

Asteroids could also put a quick stop to this human party just as a huge asteroid some 65 millions years ago killed off the dinosaurs. And Hollywood’s hopes notwithstanding, planting a nuclear device or two on the bugger probably wouldn’t save our hides.

I hope one knocks out the satellite relaying Mr. Federline’s performances to my TV.

And watch out for gamma ray bursts. Astronomers say that when a few rare massive stars collapse and die, they emit two opposite-ended jets of the most intense bursts of energy in the known universe.

That’s bad.

Especially if one ever pops its caps within a few hundred light years of Earth. We’d probably lose most of our ozone layer instantly and perish from the undiluted rays of the sun.

Our only hope is that an asteroid racing toward us will get drawn into an approaching black hole—which in turn will be destroyed by a surge of gamma rays. As for living through that deadly burst, well … maybe some brave soul will step up, flying into space and acting as a gamma-ray human shield, to sacrifice himself for the sake of humanity.

Thanks for volunteering, K-Fed.