Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Are You Serious?

I see and hear many things that I have difficulty believing.

Sometimes a friend or colleague bungles badly. Or the television shows a public figure saying something that numbs the mind. And I’m often tempted, during such times, to just look at the offending party and ask, clearly and loudly, “Really?”

Well, a bank teller in New York beat me to it. According to this story from the Boston Herald online, a female would-be robber threaten to fire her gun unless the teller handed her cash—but she fled as soon as the teller asked if she was serious.

If a quick “Are you serious?” is all it takes to knock sense into people—be they in sports, news sources, entertainment, or politics—I’m ready to go:

Hey Terrell Owens:
During your Cowboys’ hard-fought loss to the Redskins on Sunday, about one-third of the team’s offensive plays went through you, while star running back Marion Barber only carried the ball eight times. Yet afterward, you complained that the game’s result would have been different if you’d had the ball MORE.

Are you serious?!?

Hey mainstream media:
You’ve given less attention to Paul Newman’s death last week than Bernie Mac’s death earlier this year.

Are you serious?!?

Hey Clay Aiken:
You expect us to care that you’re coming out of the transparent closet. Do you really think anyone other than the most pathetic, reality show-watching couch potatoes gives a crap about your sexuality?

Are you serious?!?

Hey politicians:
You want to give hundreds of billions of dollars to people who were too stupid to avoid mortgages they couldn’t afford. You want folks like me—who bought within our budgets—to make their payments for them?

Are you serious?!?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Blown Away: The Guts and Glory of A Hurricane Hunter (repost)

Well, well. Here we go again.

Another tropical monster bearing down on the Gulf coast, another day for intrepid reporters to brave the worst nature can throw at them in pursuit of a good broadcast.

Another chance for me to put up one of my favorite posts.

First appearing in 2005 and making a return trip in 2006, this one is an ode to the Weather Channel's Jim Cantore. Keep up the good work, Jim.

Over to you.

It’s time again for an annual ritual all too familiar to American TV viewers.

Raise your hand if any of these ring a bell: An otherwise reasonable person leaning into a sand-laced wind topping 60 MPH. A padded black microphone, paired with a not-so-fashionable blue windbreaker. A whirlwind warrior -- a Weather Channel reporter named Jim Cantore.

I see several hands in the audience. Good, we have some hurricane coverage addicts in the house.

For those of you living in a cave, you obviously haven’t been assaulted by the images of Hurricane Dennis battering the Florida panhandle today. (Then again, if you live in a cave, you probably don’t spend a lot of time perusing anything followed by “” anyway.)

But if you are in any way aware of the world around you, you know about the trials and tribulations of the hurricane correspondent. You may have even seen some of the footage of today’s storm. Not exactly must-see TV, I’ll admit ... but you have to salute the constitution, the vocal strength, and the steel-like skin of our nation’s finest weather reporters.

Here’s how I imagine the average cable news network’s office two days before the storm’s projected landfall:

(A) Executive #1 holds out straws.
(B) Correspondent #3 draws the shortest.
(C) Executives #1-4 and Correspondents #1, 2, and 4-10 share guilty glances.
(D) Correspondent #3 dons his blue windbreaker and goes to Expedia for one-way tickets to Hurricane Landfall, USA.

And then there’s the Weather Channel. No straws, no guilty glances. Only our brave knight Jim, eager to face the worst maelstrom the Atlantic Gods have to offer.

Compare and contrast.

One is news. Weather, yes … but presented as any other news event. And not too exciting to watch.

The other is spectacle, it’s entertainment. We have office pools on how long it will be until our plucky hero gets clocked by either a tree limb or a pissed-off, less intrepid cameraman who is sick and tired of this shit.

So, as the storm hits, we gasp. We watch our protagonist take shelter briefly behind a shaky wall, or under a twisting tree, as street signs and power lines sail by in the background.

He’s dodging metal sections of a nearby gas station roof. Screaming over the howling wind. Stumbling as the gale roars, nearly hurling him into the newly roofless building.

And we laugh. We can’t help ourselves. This is Jim Cantore’s shining moment, this is what he lives for.

In awe and giddy anticipation we stare at the screen, barely blinking ... silently hoping that we’ll finally see him forced to surf the storm surge. And then we can cheer as our valiant warrior emerges out of the raging-river-that-was-once-a-street, like Luke Skywalker from the trash compactor. Only without lasers and stuff.

Am I making light of the danger? Do I not realize that hurricanes are serious business? Dear reader, I am fully aware that hurricanes kill. In fact, I’ve been through one of these monster storms, and that’s one too many for me. It's not something the average person would want to be caught in, with or without a camera. So I wish one of these horrible storms on nobody.

Nobody, that is, except Jim Cantore.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

On Keyboards

Some things just don’t look cool. And they never will.

As a case in point, I flipped by Metal Mania on VH-1 last weekend, catching something I had not seen in many moons: Europe’s “The Final Countdown.”

Something struck me about the video for this 1988 tune, with its central, defining synthesizer sound. You rarely see the keyboards or their accompanying musician. Even during the parts of the song dominated by the whining keys, the images highlight the band’s perfectly coiffed Nordic guitarists—the guys you can barely even hear in the background, even if you try.

Metal-heads say that not showing the guilty player is irrelevant, that “The Final Countdown” still sucks simply because it has a synthesizer in it.

I see the point, but there is more than a little hypocrisy here. Black Sabbath—arguably the foundation of heavy metal—used keyboards often. To a lesser or greater extent, so did Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Ozzy Osborne, Rush, Van Halen, Mötley Crüe, and dozens of other solid hard rock acts.

Even though some of these performances were amazing—think of Geddy Lee’s synthesized atmospherics in the late 1970s Rush albums, or Eddie Van Halen’s remarkable keyboard solo on “Jump”—most fans hated them. Why?

Quite simply, nobody can look cool playing a keyboard.

Thank about it. Unless you’re really, really into Liberace or Harry Connick, you can’t watch a dude at a piano (electronic or otherwise) and say “Wow, that ROCKS!” Even if you are inclined toward enjoying the ivories, no less a source than Elton John has said that playing a piano can never be attractive.

Don’t get me wrong. Some keyboardists have created works of art, even in the rock world. Tony Banks of Genesis, Rick Wakeman of Yes, Keith Emerson of ELP, and Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater have mastered the instrument, giving us musical magic.

But not one of them looks cool while playing. Or ever did.

That’s why I don’t mind when a keyboardist like Tony Banks, for example, becomes a virtual mannequin when Genesis performs live. He plays his half-dozen keyed instruments without any unnecessary motion--or any emotion, for that matter. There’s no swagger, rarely a look at the crowd, almost never even a smile.

It makes for one of the lamest concert performances I’ve ever seen.

And it’s orders of magnitude better than a keyboardist trying to look cool.