Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dinosaur Jr. Destined for Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame?

Pitchfork TV has a fabulous little set from the legendary Dinosaur Jr. at the Pitchfork 2008 summer music festival in Chicago. The three-piece somehow connects the wimpy wave of The Cure with the guitar power of Jimi Hendrix and the punk crunch of Bad Brains.

The set list is:
1. Back to Your Heart
2. Little Fury Things
3. Out There
4. Feel the Pain
5. Pick Me Up
6. The Wagon
7. Forget the Swan
8. Freak Scene
9. Sludgefeast

Also worth watching are the slick moves these geezers are making on their dirt bikes and skateboards in the video for Over It, off their new album Farm

I've loved Dino Jr. since J Mascis and the boys started out in the late 80s. They're true originals (despite my loose comparisons above) and their now-long career probably makes them serious contenders to be inducted as one of the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame's coolest bands.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Top 60 Funniest Movies Ever: Part Two

After seeing The Hangover Friday night, its amazing genius from Ed Helms and two other practically unheard-of leads inspired me to ponder the funniest Hollywood movies. The top 31 through 60 are here.

Drum roll please from numbers 30 through 1:

30. A Fish Called Wanda
29. Young Frankenstein
28. Old School
27. There's Something About Mary
26. Ferris Bueller's Day Off
25. Rushmore
24. Love and Death
23. Dr. Strangelove
22. Office Space
21. The Jerk
20. Happy Gilmore
19. This is Spinal Tap
18. Monty Python's The Meaning of Life
17. Animal House
16. School of Rock
15. Annie Hall
14. Vacation
13. The Wedding Singer
12. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
11. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
10. Borat
09. South Park
08. Wet Hot American Summer
07. Airplane!
06. Fletch
05. Blazing Saddles
04. Caddyshack
03. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
02. The Big Lebowski
01. The Hangover

I don't think I've forgotten any? I thought for a while about including Heathers because it's very funny (especially the pate scenes with Winona Ryder and her parents), but a little too dark. I'm sure older readers will feel slighted by the lack of a W.C. Fields movie (The Bank Dick almost made it). What do you think? What are your favorites?

Bowl of Cherries Is Another Success for McSweeney's

Just finished a hilarious book that I wrote about when I first started reading it several weeks ago. Published by the brilliant folks at McSweeney's, the now-deceased Millard Kaufman's take on what happens when a fairly aimless American kid goes to a rural area of Iraq (where the prime export is human excrement) turns into quite the adventure in colonialism.

McSweeney's own short description is well put:

Kicked out of Yale at age 14, Judd Breslau falls in with Phillips Chatterton, a bathrobe-wearing Egyptologist working out of a dilapidated home laboratory. There, young Valerie Chatterton quickly leads Breslau away from his research and into, in order: the attic, a Colorado equestrian ranch, a porn studio beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, and a jail cell in southern Iraq, where we find him awaiting his own execution while the war rages on in the north. Written by a 90-year-old debut novelist who's also an ex-Marine, a two-time Oscar nominee, and one of the co-creators of Mr. Magoo, Bowl of Cherries rivals the liveliest comic novels for sheer gleeful inventiveness. This is a book of astounding breadth and sharp consequence, containing all the joy, derangement, terror, and doubt of adolescence and everything after.

***1/2 out of ***** stars

Khamenei's Leadership Ensures Iran's Backwater Status

I used to wonder why all the world's ills and wars couldn't be fixed by international talks and friendly meals between leaders. And that's certainly a major part of it if the U.S., say, is ever to become friends with the Cubas, Venezuelas, and Palestines of the world.

But you also need to the will of the people to be expressed, as we're seeing in Iran following the possibly sham re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The lack of religious leader Ali Khamenei's ability to stand up for the protesting public is yet another example of how countries remain oppressive backwaters when politics and religion mix.

The least Khamenei should do is let a recount take place. He should also step aside and go back to his place of worship to help the people who seek his counsel. That would spare the rest of the world from having to bother listening to him.

Even Ahmadinejad ruling with his crazy hate is preferable because at least the people would know who was politically in charge. There is obviously a demand for more freedom in Iran. Luckily, Khamenei's cluelessness and brutal attacks on the citizenry may unintentionally speed up that process. Then maybe talks between leaders can take place to bring Iran into the arms of humanity.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Top 60 Funniest Movies Ever: Part One

And for those of you who wonder what barely missed the cut: Dude, Where's My Car? and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, both of which have great scenes in restaurant drive-thrus. Plus The Pink Panther, Clerks, Beverly Hills Cop (a less-great Fletch), Waiting for Guffman, Little Miss Sunshine, and Dazed and Confused.

60. Kingpin
59. Super Troopers
58. Raising Arizona
57. Stripes
56. Napoleon Dynamite
55. Superbad
54. American Pie
53. Take the Money and Run
52. Juno
51. Garden State
50. Duck Soup
49. Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid
48. The Gods Must Be Crazy
47. Best in Show
46. Election
45. The 40 Year Old Virgin
44. Wedding Crashers
43. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
42. Knocked Up
41. High Fidelity
40. Thank You for Smoking
39. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
38. Monty Python's Life of Brian
37. History of the World
36. Meatballs
35. Better Off Dead
34. Anchorman
33. Tommy Boy
32. The Naked Gun
31. Billy Madison

The top 30 coming soon ...

DC Movie Star Sighting Alert

One the way home from Fogo de Chao (Brazilian meats!) and a great movie (The Hangover) last night, Gordie, Zak, Brian and I were driving slowly up 15th Street NW, just south of I Street, and got a nice brief viewing of Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson laughing and chatting with each other.

They were standing in the spotlights and were either sharing a moment between takes or actually shooting. The movie's working title is How Do You Know? and co-stars Owen Wilson and Reese Witherspoon as participants in a love triangle with Rudd.

Apparently these celebrity sightings will become a more regular occurrence now that crusty old George W. Bush has left town and the saucy Obamas now rule the Beltway.

Come to think of it, I haven't really bumped into any major movie stars since way back in 2001, when Hannibal was filming in Union Station. Julianne Moore was sitting in a high director's chair by herself and Anthony Hopkins chatted me up (because, it seemed, I was the only person around not trying to hound him; he sort of hounded me). Much nicer guy in person than in character.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Top 14 Michael Jackson Songs

Still mourning the deaths of Ed McMahon and Farrah Fawcett, the news of the death of one of my musical heroes was pretty overwhelming late this afternoon.

I was 12 when Michael was at his peak with Thriller. That performance (embedded below) on the Motown 25 Live show in 1983 was one for the rock 'n roll ages. It was so alien and cool.

This would make up the ultimate (while excluding still lots of great songs) MJ collection:

14. The Girl Is Mine
13. Beat It
12. Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough
11. Ben (J5)
10. The Love You Save (J5)
09. Thriller
08. We Are the World (USA for Africa)
07. Got To Be There (J5)
06. Never Can Say Goodbye (J5)
05. Rock With You
04. ABC (J5)
03. I'll Be There (J5)
02. Billie Jean
01. I Want You Back (J5)

R.I.P. Michael.

Bob Barker: One of the First Reality-Show TV Hosts

Some summer mornings as a kid, I remember inevitably catching some of The Price is Right on TV. Stepping up to the podium to place their bets. Spinning the wheel. Pricing games like "Hole in One." Those are fond memories.

So I decided to give Price is Right long-time host Bob Barker's new book, Priceless Memories, a quick read. I'm not the only one who has these memories. As Bob points out: "If you are 50 years or younger, I have been on national television your entire life."

Barker always knew he wanted to be an "audience participation host." In 1956, while hosting The Bob Barker Show on a local Southern California CBS affiliate, he was discovered and ended up becoming the host of the country's top game show, Truth or Consequences.

TV (and its many forms of "audience participation") has come a long way since then, but reading this book isn't a bad use of time for a few hours.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Music Reviews in 3 Words or Less: Vol. 5

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart-S/T (2009)
Swedish jangle geniuses.
****1/2 out of ***** stars
Touchstone: Teenage Fanclub meets The Jesus and Mary Chain

Sonic Youth-The Eternal (2009)
Re-re-re-entering their prime.
****1/2 out of ***** stars
Touchstone: Thurston Moore meets Pavement

Telekinesis!-S/T (2009)
Best new band.
****1/2 out of ***** stars
Touchstone: Ben Kweller meets Elephant 6 bands

Rivers Cuomo-Alone II: The Home Recordings of ... (2008)
Uneven yet partying.
***1/2 out of ***** stars
Touchstone: Lo-fi Weezer meets Dead Milkmen

The Jam-The Gift (1982)
Worst Jam album.
***1/2 out of ***** stars
Touchstone: The Clash meets Austin Powers

Eminem-Relapse (2009)
Impressive psychological jams.
**** out of ***** stars
Touchstone: Dr. Dre meets 50 Cent

Monday, June 22, 2009

My Close Proximity to Tragic D.C. Metro Crash

I was packed like a sardine onto a Metro train underground in the Union Station stop for about 30 minutes during this evening's rush hour. The only word we received from Metro officials was that there was a problem between Fort Totten and Takoma, a few stops up the Red Line on my way home.

Eventually it occurred to me that I had left my bike at work last Friday, so I bailed out and called Jackson's babysitter to tell her I'd be really late. She told me about a terrible collision and was very glad I wasn't on the two trains that smashed into each other.

Indeed, I was lucky not to be on either of those trains. Had I actually been on time to pick up Jackson, I might have been. As it was, I was probably two or three trains back.

The inconvenient wait was another reason to ride my bike as often as possible. The six confirmed deaths, at this point, on those trains could really hurt public-transit ridership in D.C., which has promisingly been showing increased ridership since Obama took office. Still another reason to bike.

Thanks for all the calls, e-mails, and tweets to make sure I was alright.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Having a Baby is Dumb Fun for The Brothers Solomon

Will Arnett was classic as Jason Bateman's brother Job in the Arrested Development TV series. And Will Forte is a pretty weirdly good member of Saturday Night Live's current cast. Together, they make up The Brothers Solomon, who need to have a baby in order to make their dad (Lee Majors, aka The Six Million Dollar Man) so happy that he'll snap out of his coma.

The best moment of the movie is when Dean Solomon (Forte) goes to the front door of a blind date, who invites him in to meet her parents. Forte then leans in and gives the father a gentle kiss on the lips. This doesn't bode especially well for the date, but had me in stitches.

Chi McBride, as James, the big black janitor with a foul mouth and a sensitive heart (and an aversion to hearing the word "sperm"), is also great.

The floating-head, goofy-face, reappearing close-ups of Arnett and Forte's faces is also amusing, and a soundtrack that features The Flaming Lips and The Magic Numbers is also enjoyable.

When you need 90 minutes of brain-dead dumb fun, you could do a lot worse than The Brothers Solomon.

**1/2 out of ***** stars.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Woolly Mammoth Cooks Books With Fever/Dream

Fever/Dream might be the least-enjoyable play I've seen at DC's Woolly Mammoth Theater. It takes a 17th Century play by Pedro Calderón de la Barca about princes and monarchies and transforms it into a nonsensical corporate office environment.

Not only is the corporate version cliche (if you're going to take it on, you've got your work cut out to be better than The Office or Office Space), but the ridiculous premise isn't funny. A long-haired hermit has been locked in the basement of his father's corporation answering customer-service calls his whole life. Finally, the boss wants to retire and hand the company to his freakish captive.

It doesn't work. And neither does the play. There are possibilities for huge laughs, but they rarely come. It almost seems like playwright Sheila Callaghan is trying to make some important statement on society about how people aren't dealt the same decks of cards and rich and powerful people live in a fishbowl. In the end, it's pretty clear what has happened and there's unfortunately not much need to discuss any of it with your fellow theatergoers.

All that said, the set is cool. The show has a large cast, which is unusual for the Woolly, and one of the blogger characters is played excellently by Lauren Ciandella, who was newshound Jane in my Fringe production last year of Wiener Sausage: The Musical! Kate Eastwood Norris and Kimberly Gilbert are hilarious and goofy and mesmerizing as always, even more impressive considering the lacking material.

** out of ***** stars

Monday, June 15, 2009

Lack of PR Strategy a Fast Path to Bad CEOing

William J. Holstein of the New York Times (pictured, right) writes about how important public-relations strategies are for corporations in his 2008 book Manage the Media: Don't Let the Media Manage You (Memo to the CEO).

He offers the example of former Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli's absence of a PR strategy leading up to his downfall. He was going to receive tough questions from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees at the company's annual shareholder meeting, so he discouraged his executives from attending the meeting and imposed a tight limit on questions.

Internal and external relations counsel tried to discourage Nardelli (pictured, left) from these courses of action. He didn't listen and the media turned him into toast.

In an incident not too long after the shareholder meeting, he stonewalled Holstein during an interview. When the author realized Nardelli would look really bad once the article was published, he gave Nardelli the rare opportunity to take a look at the transcript and alter it if he liked. Nardelli stubbornly didn't alter it and the article showed that he clearly had no PR strategy behind ruling the meeting with an iron fist.

All kinds of bad things happened to Nardelli after Home Deport cut him loose, including being named "one of the worst CEOs of all-time" by CNBC, becoming head of Chrysler. and being "released" from the failing Chrysler.

This is from the first chapter, entitled "How Not to Manage the Media." Later in the book, Holstein goes deeper into what went wrong for Nardelli and other CEOs, recommends how to shape messages, and how to embrace the new media.

Recommended reading for anyone who runs a company or manages a lot of staff.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Facebook Is Making Us Dumb

Today's Web-and-not-book-obsessed youth will destroy society. That's alarmist rhetoric and it's what people have been saying for years.

So why am I leading off this article by saying it again? Actually, that's the thesis of self-described "curmudgeon" author and Emory English professor Mark Bauerlein in 2008's The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupifies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future, or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30.

And although he states the obvious, the string of indictments he has for today's gossipy and self-absorbed Facebook generation makes a strong and scary case.

A few of the book's endless stats include:

-- 52 percent of high-school seniors picked Germany, Japan, or Italy over the Soviet Union as a U.S. ally in World War II.

-- Only 41 percent of teenagers can name the three branches of government.

-- Barely half of 15- to 26-year-olds agree that "paying attention to government and politics" is important to good citizenship.

-- In July 2006, only 26 percent of 18- to 26-year-olds knew that Condi Rice was secretary of state and only 15 percent knew Vlad Putin was president of Russia.

-- Of 18- to 24-year-olds, in the past 12 months, only 10 percent have attended a jazz performance, one in 12 attended a classical music performance, only 2.6 percent saw a ballet, and 11.4 percent went to a play. Those numbers have all been dropping over time, despite huge increases in the overall number of performing arts companies.

No matter what political stripe or class, Bauerlein finds that the more young people attend to themselves, the less they remember the past and envision a future. The minds of the young are plateauing at age 18. The small samplings of dummies on Jay Leno's "Jaywalking" segments are no lie and parallel the many, many studies that confirm our collective cluelessness.

"The insulated mindset of individuals who know precious little history and civics and never read a book or visit a museum is fast becoming a common, shame-free condition."

Scary stuff, and a book well worth reading ... at least for the few who still stoop to that sort of thing.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Music Reviews in 3 Words or Less: Vol. 4

Afghan Whigs-Up In It (1990)
Maniacal guitar popsoul.
****1/2 out of ***** stars
Touchstone: Mudhoney meets The Replacements
(This isn't the album cover. I just like the band shot.)

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band-Outer South (2009)
Conor's songs unstoppable.
****1/2 out of ***** stars
Touchstone: Neil Young meets Bright Eyes

1990s-Kicks (2009)
Catchy synth pop-punk.
**** out of ***** stars
Touchstone: The Strokes meets Franz Ferdinand

White Lies-To Lose My Life (2009)
Dark sonic wave.
**1/2 out of ***** stars
Touchstone: Depeche Mode meets Interpol

The Replacements-Don't Tell a Soul, Remaster (1989 and 2008)
Countrified raggedy pop.
****1/2 out of ***** stars
Touchstone: The Lemonheads meets Paul Westerberg

Does George W. Know Obama Is Living in His Old House?

As Barack Obama prepared to formally launch his campaign back in February 2007, President George W. Bush sat in the White House and said he had "no idea who would win the GOP nomination."

But he was absolutely sure Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee. He said it with his feet propped up, Texas-cowboy style, on a glass coffee table. "She has staying power, star power, and money power. She brings a big organization that is well funded right off the bat, and one of the lessons I learned is you have to be able to play the long ball," Bush snickered.

Not surprisingly, Bush was very doubtful of Obama. "Certainly a phenom and very attractive. The guy is very smart." But he went on to say, while "popping an endless stream of peanuts into his mouth," that the primary election process would be rough and that Obama didn't have the experience to handle it.

This is a fun story in the opening of Richard Wolffe's new book, Renegade: The Making of a President. Wolffe, a writer for Newsweek and regular talking head on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, had close access during the campaign.

The candidate was nicknamed "Renegade" by the Secret Service because he "repeatedly broke the rules." Obama had little money starting the campaign, rejected public finance, campaigned overseas, accepted his nomination in a football stadium, spent millions on a prime-time TV show, stayed positive. The list goes on.

I'm not all that enamored of Wolffe's storytelling style, so I probably won't read on past the first couple of dozen pages. But the tale about Bush's predictions was enjoyable. I had forgotten about it among all of Bush's other errors.

Renegade's intro gets *** out of ***** stars.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Nixon's Watergate Wack Job "Hatchet Man"

President Richard Nixon's Special Counsel Charles Colson was the ace up journalist David Frost's sleeve in getting the former president to confess to his Watergate wrongdoings.

That's the moment of great suspense and anguish on Nixon's face that culminates from two fully great hours of movie drama in last year's Frost/Nixon.

Colson (pictured right) was known as Nixon's "hatchet man" and as the "evil genius" in an "evil administration." He authored "Nixon's Enemies List" and news stories reported that he would "run over his own grandmother to get Nixon re-elected."

In 1974 he was indicted for trying to cover up Watergate. Before his sentencing, Colson became an evangelical Christian. He spent seven months in an Alabama prison and soon founded a group that examined prisoner and prison rehabilitation.

Colson is still alive and fairly active in public life, between his preaching and commentary writing for the pathetic conservative "news" site Townhall.com. One example of his ability to always be wrong is his glowing endorsement of Sarah Palin back in 2008 after John McCain had hastily named the Alaska windbag governor as his vice-presidential candidate.

Frost/Nixon isn't much about Colson. But that's a good thing because what I've told you here is all that's really worth knowing. More importantly, the Oscar-nominated movie is embellished a little bit, but its two dueling characters (Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen, who played Tony Blair in The Queen, as Frost) are excellent, which makes sense since they both already played these roles on the stage in London and New York.

****1/2 out of ***** stars

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Lemonheads Vs. The U.S. Government!

This is too good not to repost (and just in time for a new Lemonheads album; one of my favorite musicians, Evan Dando, hasn't lost his marketing touch), courtesy of BBC news:

The Lemonheads' Evan Dando

Lemonheads singer Evan Dando has taken legal action against US car maker General Motors for re-recording one of his songs and using it in an advert.

The musician sued GM at Los Angeles Federal Court for violating his copyright on It's a Shame About Ray.

Dando is seeking damages and a portion of profits from the 2008 TV campaign for Chevrolet and Buick models.

The US manufacturer, which has been hit by the economic crisis, recently sought federal protection from bankruptcy.

GM, along with music licensing company Asche and Spencer, have yet to respond to the claims.

The Lemonheads scored a number of hits on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1990s, including Into Your Arms and a cover version of Mrs Robinson.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Gonzo Journalism Keeps Telling Good Stories

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson tells a great story (with a stunning cast of talking heads, including Jimmy Carter) of American cultural and political life during the second half of the 20th century.

The Hell's Angels gave the young writer his first break by allowing him full access to the group (and thanking him with a good beat down). He had a huge crush on Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane during the San Francisco 60s heyday.

When Thompson ran for sheriff, a couple of his platform stances were to change the name of Aspen to Fat City and to replace the downtown streets with sod.

Nobody had ever yet written political journalism like he had at his height as a Rolling Stone contributor. (Matt Tiabbi is following in the Gonzo tradition nowadays at the music magazine.) Thompson described Nixon as scum, claimed that Edmund Muskie was on drugs and therefore gave awful speeches, and helped Carter win with his endorsement. One of the many great video footages in the documentary is of Thomas Eagleton dripping sweat at the press conference when McGovern asked him to step down as his VP candidate because of health reasons.

Eventually, the Gonzo myth took over Thompson's public persona. He had earlier thrived as a semi-anonymous journalist, but his creativity was later stifled by his celebrity. It contributed to his eventual suicide by gun.

**** out of ***** stars

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Guest Blogger: How Rachel Lettre Educated Barack Obama, Part IV

Rachel Lettre, my wife, worked with President Barack Obama on an Earth Day tree-planting service project (C-SPAN 32-minute video) following the signing of a national service bill. She works for Student Conservation Association and this is part four - the finale - of her series on "friends in high places." Also see parts one, two and three.

President Obama, Michelle, Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, and Jill Biden were greeted by Dale Penny, SCA’s CEO and Gayle Hazelwood, superintendent of National Park Service-National Capital Parks East. Two students were assigned to walk towards their "principal," greet them and bring them down to where Amtchat and I were waiting to do the introduction.

As they walked up the road toward the work area, a familiar voice was heard saying, “Brenda, Chris, where are you?” President Obama had been briefed and was looking for his students before they even got to him. He was so genuine and put everyone at ease. From where I waited, I watched them all walk down the road chatting, smiling, shaking hands, arms draped around each other like a group of old friends (some a little over dressed). Like any group on day one, it took a minute to get them into a circle. Then Obama walked around and shook everyone's hand (this was great because we could only pair two volunteers with each of them and, of course, the 10 who weren’t paired with Obama wanted to shake his hand).

Amtchat did a brief environmental education lesson and I gave a safety talk. Obama kept interrupting me [Editor's note: A particular pet peeve of my wife's]. I can’t even remember what he was saying other then "someone forgot my boots," but it made it that much more natural. It's funny; it was so natural talking to this group. I wasn't nervous at all considering I was telling the most powerful man in the world to wear his gloves and use good body mechanics when swinging a tool. I was more nervous standing in front of friends and family giving a toast at a wedding.

We were told to speed things up and that Bill had to leave early, so we got right to work. Bill planted the demo tree with Obama looking on and joking about needing to pay attention so as not to "screw it up." Bill responded, "Pay attention? I've got more experience then anyone out here." My favorite was when Amtchat told Bill, "You've got good body mechanics."

After this, the students paired with each of the principals got to work. This was genuine. They didn’t want anything done in advance, so it took some work. Some trees were in rocky soil, some in wet soil, and all required some serious digging. Bill had obviously dug some holes in his day and even commented to the students, "I'm a redneck from Arkansas. I've done this before" in between telling them all about shovel design. Joe Biden talked to his partners about putting fences up around his home in Delaware. Jill Biden worked hard in her pink boots that matched the flowers on the redbud tree she was planting. Barack and Michelle’s trees were next to each other and they kept up playful banter with each other throughout the project.

Barack picked up the pick mattock and started digging his hole. Had it not been the president, I probably would have stepped in and told him to put on a hard hat or that he shouldn’t be using that tool without boots! Michelle was working hard digging the biggest hole (which kept filling with water) while Barack teased her and offered to help (she responded by telling him "don't mess with girl power over here").

It was over fast. Before we knew it, we were moving everyone together for a photo and getting ready for them to depart. The students presented the principals with SCA vests and Obama put his on (the monogramming that SCA did and I thought was so cheesy may have worked in our benefit, since he said "it's got my name on it. I guess I have to try it on"). And before walking to the motorcade, Brenda and Michael, who will make great crew leaders one day, asked Obama to watch them do the boot dance (a goofy thing that we trailworkers do for fun or to warm up on a cool day). Obama watched with a smile on his face the whole time. This was genuine SCA!

As the motorcade pulled away and the staff and volunteers had a chance to talk to each other, the words that I heard and felt were “perfection” and “flawless” and that felt great.

Everything went as planned or better, and I can say that I played a big part in making that happen. Over beers that night, Amtchat, Leah, and I celebrated the success of the highest profile event we will probably ever be a part of and the work of a great team.

Bring Back the Old Grey Whistle Test!

When it comes to listening to music, I almost always prefer studio music over live performances. But then again, live music is something I love to watch. And the Old Grey Whistle Test DVDs is a fascinating way to watch a wide variety of styles of in-studio live performances collected from throughout the British show's run between 1971 and 1987.

On Volume 3, even the terrible performances by PIL, Japan (pictured, right), Joe Jackson, Half Man Half Biscuit, and The Jesus and Mary Chain (a band I normally love) are captivating.

There are a handful of performances by artists I know little about and am encouraged to check out further, including folksters Lindisfarne, Humble Pie with their smokin' soul number "Black Coffee," Janis Ian and her powerful "At Seventeen," and the country-meets-wave of Lone Justice.

True highlights of the DVD include Roger Daltrey's commentary on the ills of the music industry and lamenting on the sad loss of vinyl. His performance of the Leo Sayer-penned "Giving It All Away" is pretty good as well. Jackson Browne, Steppenwolf, The Jam, Freddie King, Orange Juice, the Bangles, and, yes, even Supertramp, are worth the price of admission alone. And there's still more.

This is the kind of show that the world needs. Austin City Limits is about the closest thing, but even it is still way too infrequently aired.

**** out of ***** stars

Monday, June 1, 2009

Music Reviews in 3 Words or Less: Vol. 3

Hershel Savage & The American Flag-The American Flag (1998)
Sunshiny, childish, glorious.
****1/2 out of ***** stars
Touchstone: Guided by Voices meets The Archies

Amy Winehouse-Frank (2007)
Vocal-histrionic joke soul.
** out of ***** stars
Touchstone: Donna Summer meets American Idol

America-Here & Now (2007)
Breezily wimpy/perfect.
**** out of ***** stars
Touchstone: Teenage Fanclub meets, er, America

Andrew Bird-The Mysterious Production of Eggs (2005)
Overrated hipster busker.
**1/2 out of ***** stars
Touchstone: Rufus Wainwright meets a Marriott Residence Inn songman

Annie Hayden-The Enemy of Love (2005)
Tender, needs punch.
***1/3 out of ***** stars
Touchstones: Maria Taylor meets Spent