Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Name That Road

Someday I hope to have a planet named after me.

It looks doubtful. I’m not a Roman god, you see, and the near monopoly of Jupiter and his buddies in this arena speaks for itself. So I’ll set my sights lower.

Maybe a continent. Perhaps a country, a city, or a village. Hell, I’ll take a random street. For that, I don’t need to be a deity, a president, or a slain civil rights hero. Serving as a senator, funding an orphanage, or buying off a mayor is not required.

I just need to be an entertainer.

This insight came to me while reading about the Berlin’s bold move to name a street after Frank Zappa. Why Frank Zappa? I have no idea. But in German, of course, it looks fantastic, coming out as “Frank-Zappa-Strasse.”

I’m looking for my opportunity. In the meantime, I’m sure we’ll see these cities name roads in honor of specific symbolically appropriate entertainers:

Amsterdam: Lindsay Lohan.

Dubai: Richard Branson. J.K. Rowling. Any wealth-monger will do.

Bangkok: Any porn star.

Timbuktu: Kevin Federline; the divorce went through this week.

Baghdad: Dr. Dre. Ice-T. All gangster rappers, in fact.

And if there’s ever a city named “Smartassville,” I’m first in line.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Big Fat Harry Deal

Harry Potter this, Harry Potter that. It's deja vu all over again with the pending release of J.K. Rowling's novel, and you will be hearing more about Harry in the next few days than you heard about Anna Nicole Smith in a whole month.

Two years and two days ago, I posted this little assessment of the last Harry Potter mania. I think it still rings true today. Do you agree?

I, perhaps like you, have struggled for years with the fundamental question of our era: to read or not read.

To read or not to read Harry Potter books, that is.

While hundreds of millions of kids—and not a few adults—have jumped onto the Geek Prince bandwagon, I have simply watched it pass. As a generation has grown up in the wizard’s worldview, a few brave souls have merely stood back and shrugged. Pretending not to notice. Unenlightened by the exploits of a little nerd who, somehow, is a hero to a generation. Carrying on with our Hogwarts-free lives.

But no one is truly immune.

After all, I just made a reference to the young magicians’ school, didn’t I? I’m not proud that I can tell you Slytherin is one of the houses at Hogwarts, young wizards love to chase the splendidly named Golden Snitch, and Dumbledore is an old, wizened warlock dude who, whispers in back alleys have it, may not make it to the next book.

All this, and not a single word of J.K. Rowling’s scribbling has met my eye.

This isn’t all that remarkable by itself. Despite never watching one frame of a George Lucas film, my mother knew all about Jedi light sabers, Chewbacca’s primal yodel, and Yoda’s confused sentence structure. Sure, the latter was from years of enduring my gems such as, “To the playground I will go” and “More pancakes for me you will make,” but you get the point.

Phenomena like these pervade spaces well outside their direct influence. They become part of our common culture, creating references that serve as shorthand for more difficult concepts. The tales of the His Royal Geekiness pervade American life, and his stories bring us together.

Well, most of us.

This weekend, I felt like the proverbial kid who is picked last for kickball. I walked through both city streets and suburban cookie-cutter strip malls and saw more than a few folks—young and old alike—with noses buried in the newest adventure, and I had to wonder what Monday conversations would go right over my muggle head.

If this makes me sound bitter toward the whole Nerd Necromancer community, please ignore it. Because I’m not. Really.

In fact, despite my (admittedly uninformed) belief that these books don’t seem too challenging and aren’t exactly brilliant in their plots and character development, I am a huge fan of the Harry Potter experience.

Why? It boils down to one simple fact, one eternal truth.

I like books.

To paraphrase the immortal Gordon Gekko, books—for lack of a better word—are good. Books are right. Books work. Books, like greed, have marked the upward surge of mankind.

And, I must say, this wizard stuff is getting kids to read. We shouldn’t forget that the average kid spends more time each day staring at a television and playing Grand Theft Auto than most of us sleep each night. If these books get kids to read, make it “cool” to have books in their hands, and encourage them to read other books in between Harry Potter installments, then I’m all for it.

Just don’t ask me to read one of those geeky books.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What a Wonderful World

Here in David Amulet’s world, we love lists. And, apparently, we are not the only ones.

The world just can’t get enough of rankings and compilings.

In the past few weeks I’ve seen lists of the best movies of all time, the most important books of the last century, the most spiteful things to do to your landlord, and the worst things to say under your breath to your wife.

That last one is just mine. You don’t want me to share, trust me.

But one new list in particular has caught me eye. This weekend, we got yet another ranking of the world’s seven most something; this time, it’s the globe’s most amazing human-built structures:
  • The Great Wall of China
  • Petra in Jordan
  • The “Christ the Redeemer” statue in Brazil
  • Machu Picchu in Peru
  • The Chichen Itza pyramid
  • The Colosseum in Rome
  • The Taj Mahal in India
Like any good list, this one generated some controversy.

The Egyptians seethe because the ancient pyramids inexplicably didn’t make the cut. Surely the absence of any Athenian sites angers the Greeks.

This time, however, critics cannot blame a panel of architects or egg-headed professors for the results. These results followed a very democratic process, which drew more than 90 million votes online, split among 21 sites.

Maybe that’s the problem.

If there is going to be a worldwide poll, it needs better publicity than this one. I only heard about it after the voting had closed. If this were a fully representative survey of world opinion, I think we’d have to include the following structures:
  • The Egyptian Pyramids, the world’s most recognizable structure
  • The International Space Station, the world’s largest space creation
  • The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the world’s most tempting climbing target
  • The Washington Monument, the world’s most blatant phallic symbol
  • Jessica Alba, the world’s most beautiful structure

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Music’s Past as Prologue

It’s been 40 years since the “Summer of Love.” I wasn’t even alive—and I’m sick of hearing about it.

Whether it’s VH-1 Classic showing a documentary of the Monterey Pop Festival or Rolling Stone magazine’s self-congratulatory anniversary issues, 1967 is stomping on my last nerve.

People who got into the scene back then venerate the year and its music, making it out to be the pinnacle of Western—nay, ANY—civilization. Those who love music but weren’t alive have been led to believe that 1967 was a magical time that changed the world.

The facts say otherwise.

Don’t get me wrong—exceptional artists released amazing albums in 1967. The Doors put out their classic debut album and its impressive follow-up, Strange Days. Cream’s stunning Disraeli Gears, The Beatles’ iconic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Jimi Hendrix Experience’s groundbreaking debut Are You Experienced all came out then, too.

The fundamentalists who lionize 1967 disingenuously pretend that this type of quality was what the year’s music was all about. They pretend that it was totally different than today—when it’s like searching for needles in haystacks to find quality music among the pop schlock.

Sorry, folks. Forty years ago wasn’t as grand as you remember.

The top selling albums of the year? The Monkees’ More of the Monkees and The Monkees.

That’s right. A fake band created for television sold more albums than the great Beatles and Rolling Stones. COMBINED.

Top ten albums included the likes of The Sound of Music soundtrack, three albums by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and the soundtrack to Doctor Zhivago. The Beatles barely registered at number ten with Sgt. Pepper’s. Only one true rock song, The Doors’ “Light My Fire,” even made the Top 20 singles of 1967.

Perhaps people want to remember the year for more than it was to make them feel better about today’s generally commercial, bland pop. Maybe U2 had it right about these folks in 1988’s “God Part II,” from the album Rattle and Hum:

“You glorify the past when the future dries up."