Saturday, September 23, 2017

Pop Will Eat Its Children, Pt. 5

30. "Baby Got Back," Sir Mix-A-Lot

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: #1

Ah, when Seattle ruled the hip-hop landscape. I always forget that Rick Rubin co-produced this. When you wanted mainstream hip hop that didn't treat women like disposal party favors, it was this or (gah) Arrested Development.

Keep it? NO

"Doowutchyalike," Digital Underground

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

"The Humpty Dance" was the hit, while "Doowutchyalike" had to make do as the 9-minute party jam. Shock G and his alter ego Humpty Hump trade verses that are positive and silly without coming off crude or cringe. Still, the piano solo is arguably the highlight. The joyousness engendered almost defies common sense. (Points for encouraging women to objectify men.)

29. "Paper Bag," Fiona Apple

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

From that album with the 310-word title. Fiona wrote this after mistaking a paper bag for a dove. I once mistook a bagel for a glazed donut. Hardly song-worthy, honey.

Keep it? NO

"No Excuses," Alice In Chains

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

Family vacation in Arizona! And by "family" I mean "friends," and when I say "Arizona" I mean one of the less-famous canyons. Rough way to test the tensile strength of a relationship, but I can't think of one that fires surer.

28. "Pink Triangle," Weezer

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

Guy falls deep in love with a lesbian. "If everyone's a little queer/Can't she be a little straight?" Are you for real with this bullshit?

Keep it? NO

"Puss," Jesus Lizard

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

(How I wish they'd titled that split "Oh, the Puss.")

By all rights, "Puss" is a song I should like only with massive reservations. The music hits the face like a frozen candy bar flung from six feet away, but the lyrics directly reference and encourage assaulting a woman. That singer David Yow wrote it in dishonor of a guy he knows makes matters better and worse. Anyway, I'm not mad at Yow. He's 5'6" and built like a substitute teacher.

27. "Around the World," Daft Punk

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: #6

Another one bites the pillow. Top 50 Songs For a Cardio Routine, maybe.

Keep it? NO

"The Diamond Sea," Sonic Youth

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

You knew it was coming. My favorite band's magnum opus. And I don't mean the five minute single edit. I want all twenty minutes, baby. I've nothing to add but yes, yes motherfuck yes. (But not motherfuck the band Yes, they kinda ruled.)

26. "Torn," Natalie Umbruglia

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: #42

"Inoffensive" is a weird insult, in that it can also be a compliment. Jennifer Paige's "Crush" goes hand in hand with "Torn" in my mind, despite the fact they don't sound at all alike. Inoffensive one-hit wonders with one-word titles sung by fairy dust addicts.

Keep it? NO

"Blood Makes Noise," Suzanne Vega

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

Suppressing unpleasantness with the application of further unpleasantness isn't suggested by most therapists, but most therapists go pale at the sight of flowing red.

Yeah, the bass is ace, but the guitars are really irritated and you will hear them out!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Pop Will Eat Its Children, Pt. 4

35. "If It Makes You Happy," Sheryl Crow

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: #10

A singer-songwriter who manages to be a spectacular fail-bomb at both singing and songwriting. Sheryl Crow is an episode of Friends turned into a person.

Keep it? NO

"Jesus Christ Pose," Soundgarden

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

Before the black hole, there was the white cross. "Jesus Christ Pose" is an episode of Game Of Thrones turned into a song.

34. "Don't Let Go (Love)," En Vogue

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: #2

Flings are fun, but ain't no thing like the real thing. Or so I've heard tell.

R&B stopped being sexy after 1996.

Keep it? NO

"Pony," Ginuwine

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: #6


The members of En Vogue want full commitment; Ginuwine wants to break some random chick's back like a Pringle. Humans shouldn't be capable of such wicked magic. Timbaland's beat consists of sand-streaked drums, a belching pterodactyl, a goddamn cartoon sound effect, and still steams my clothes off.

33. "XXX," Helium

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

Smart money on whore-as-victim. Too bad people are so dumb.

Keep it? NO

"Pat's Trick," Helium

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

Singer/guitarist/fire woman Mary Timony has a brother named Patrick, but I have no proof this is about him. I do know a Patrick with "long-ass curly hair," and oh oh oh oh, I've decided to make this song all about him. Trust me, he's a good guy, the kinda fella you'd wanna be trapped in an airborne fish net with. While you're squirming and gagging, ol' Pat's less than a foot away, sawing at the nylon with an unappetizing fingernail.

32. "I'll Be," Foxy Brown (feat. Jay-Z)

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: #7

Great sample. Thump is key. Foxy Brown, possessor of the "ill na na," was positioned as Li'l Kim 2.0--sexy, stylish, but also tough and independent. She starts her rhyme in the cowgirl position and…it just goes downhill from there.

Keep it? NO

"Cold Rock A Party (single remix)," MC Lyte (feat. Missy Elliott)

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: #11

Diana Ross gets cold-cocked by the best-sounding female MC ever. Missy's rampant non-lyricism is unsurprisingly a fun contrast.

31. "Born Slippy (Nuxx)," Basement Jaxx

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

A huge hit in their native UK, thanks to its appearance in Trainspotting, this bulldozer doesn't need scrawny thieving gingers in order to run. Insouciant ravers turned a bleak fear of the future into a ebullient refusal to give a fuck about the future.

Keep it? YES

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Pop Will Eat Its Children, Pt. 3

40. "Still Not a Player," Big Pun

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: #24

Pun was one of the best at what he did. His so-called "club" songs were every bit as lyrical as his "street" tracks. The late, lamented MC wasn't simply lyrically dexterous, he was funny. Over come-hither licks 'n' clicks, Pun boasts about his penchant for pussy-tasting and ass-regulating, making sure to remind the listener: "I'm not a player, I just fuck a lot."

Keep it? YES

39. "Brand New Love," Sebadoh

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

Sheffield and his soft spot for…well, it's just a soft spot, really. (Non-sociopaths tend to have them.) "Brand New Love" was originally recorded in 1987, then re-done for the Sebadoh Vs Helmet EP. Risks are inherent with any surgery, especially open-heart procedures, and especially when performed by a doctor high off his ass.

Keep it? NO

"Beauty of the Ride," Sebadoh

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

Lou Barlow gives the impression of caring just enough to keep from going over the edge. His lyrics expose the emotionalism his voice tries to conceal. Frequently, they also contain solid advice: Don't defuse the bomb. Do keep one eye on the timer.

38. "Mind Playing Tricks On Me," Geto Boys

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: #23

The Isaac Hayes is so pristine, I almost didn't want to hear anyone rapping over it. Silly me. The Boys gained notoriety for lyrics full of murder and misogyny, but their most indelible work is their most thoughtful, and one of the genre's standout storytelling songs: spooky without veering into corniness, fantastical yet completely authentic.

Keep it? YES

37. "You Get What You Give," New Radicals

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: #36

The Nineties version of the "woke" white boy. How such a putrid pep talk resonated with so many baffles me. Joni Mitchell came out in praise of this song, and Joni Mitchell comes out in praise of nothing.

Keep it? NO

"Enjoy the Silence," Depeche Mode

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: #8

Violator came out in '89, which better be Sheffield's reasoning for leaving this off his list. I love this song so much, it doesn't even bother me that it basically advocates the elimination of words. The Anton Corbijn-directed video looks like the Plow King in the midst of an existential boring change.

36. "Glory Box," Portishead

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

Trip-hop hip-lock with a lesson: a woman is a woman once baptized in her own melted gold.

Keep it? YES

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Pop Will Eat Its Children, Pt. 2

45. "Crush On You (remix)," Li'l Kim & Li'l Cease

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: #84

Originally intended as a Cease solo track, until Kim expressed interest. Thanks to pregnancy complications, though, she was unable to add a timely verse, but left the song on her album anyway.

Fuck this song.

Keep it? NO

"Back That Azz Up," Juvenile

U. S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: #19

Kids these days just don't know about the first reign of Cash Money Records. Just as fellow New Orleans hip hop label No Limit began its downturn, Williams Bros. & Co. reached its commercial peak. Mannie Fresh's (mostly) sample-free beats, Li'l Wayne before the yes-men and lean, and flagship artist Juvenile, who provided CMR with its first big chart hits: the idiosyncratic "Ha," and this booty-bounce classic, which while vibrating with nastiness, is still kind enough to provide an extended orchestral intro to prepare listeners for the maelstrom of ass which is about to materialize.

44. "Cybele's Reverie," Stereolab

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

A world run by the French. Lounge sounds for moonrakers. Levitation instructions for and by people who speak no more than fifty words a day.

Keep it? YES (took long enough)

43. "Alright," Supergrass

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

Never had much time for Britpop. Still don't. Why am I supposed to love "Alright," 'cause a 19-year-old wrote it?

Keep it? NO

"Jack Names the Planets," Ash

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

Ash are a Northern Irish pop-punk trio who are still recording and touring. They're pretty good. Nothing life-altering, but there are other options for that. "Jack" is a great example of peaking early, a cinnamon roll baked by a 15-year-old…now that is impressive.

42. "The Sign," Ace of Base

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: #1

The number one song of 1994. People of the world, take solace in vague analogue joy. It's as if the world decided every generation needs its own ABBA, and this generation got the talentless, sexless version.

Keep it? NO

"Naked Eye," Luscious Jackson

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: #36

White girl rap? No, she's talking. Oh how she's talking. Top 50 Songs I Want To Bang, fer sure.

41. "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover," Sophie B Hawkins

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: #5

The lack of comma makes me think she really wants to break off a piece of someone named "Damn."

"Tonight I'll be your mother." No no no. Infinity no's. This sounds like an Enya song remixed by Lenny Kravitz.

Keep it? NO

"Sunday," The Spinanes

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

Heartful indie couch-pop courtesy of the second-most overlooked band from the Pacific Northwest on this list. The "oomph" lies not in the sentences formed, but the distance measured. "You could never turn me off/Just flip me upside down."

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Pop Will Eat Its Children, Pt. 1

On the eighth day of the eighth month of the year 2010, Rolling Stone unveiled the "50 Best Songs of the Nineties," as per veteran scribe Rob Sheffield. I've long been an admirer of Sheffield's passion for music, his pride in being a fan, and finally, his writing. Which, as this list proves, works better as a whole rather than in pieces.

As with VH-1's Top 100 of the 80s, I'll be reviewing not only the original list of songs, but also, whenever necessary, songs I found more deserving of recognition. The pace remains five songs per entry, so let us go.

50. "Flashlight," Fuzzy

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

The "buried indie rock gem" slot goes to Boston's Fuzzy, who released three albums on as many labels over six years--and until the RS list, I had not heard note one from. Pleasant enough, but I don't catch what distinguishes "Fuzzy" from the better tracks of, say, Superchunk.

Keep it? NO

"Be Like That, " Tsunami

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

If the topic is forgotten classic albums of the decade, The Heart's Tremolo better come up, or I'm sticking my fist down somebody's throat. One of several hundred projects of DMV treasure Jenny Toomey, Tsunami's lack of legacy is as frustrating as the protagonist of "Be Like That." A calm drive that takes rest stops to allow for starbursts.

49. "Sometimes," Britney Spears

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: #21

Rob's ear for massively popular songs of the era is quite erring. Britney's second single is more gummy than bubbly, another tale of a bashful gal keeping it real with her guy.

Keep it? NO

"Nothing Compares 2 U," Sinead O'Connor
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: #1

Twenty-seven years and my throat's resistance is nil. Love is the best, till it's the worst. What's sadder than a bird struck silent?

48. "Self-Esteem," Offspring

Peak Position: Did not chart

"Lithium" for skate punks. Intolerable after twenty seconds. Oh, by the way, I won the war.

Keep it? NO

"Gotta Get Away," Offspring

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

This shit is full-bodied, powered along by some real pressure, not that "Ah man, this chick's so bad for me, but she's like too good for me too, dude I don't even know."

47. "Fotos y Recuerdos," Selena

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

A Spanish-language rewrite of "Back on the Chain Gang." I'm serious.

Keep it? NO

"The Official Ironmen Rally Song," Guided By Voices

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

Chipped paint and cracked pavement means cheap liquor and cheaper beer means Bob Pollard wrote three songs from the time you started reading this post. The working class need a hero, and it is them.

46. "Random Rules," Silver Jews

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

Odds are decent you know someone (or know someone who knows someone) who swears that David Berman is the American Yeats. He's at least one of the few lyricists of the past fifty years whose work qualifies as "literary," all the better to prop up the generally unremarkable music underneath. "Random Rules" is a humble-brag of a last-ditch effort let down by its friends.

Keep it? NO

"Refuse/Resist," Sepultura

U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: Did not chart

I like my fight-in-the-name-of-love songs to sound closer to actual physical altercations. "Refuse/Resist" heralds Sepultura's transition from "Slayer Jr." to their own unique beast.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Re-Examining "The Good Decade"

 I promise, I deliver. Each year of the 1990s, from worst to best.

10. 1997

BOOKS: The first Harry Potter restored the balance as threatened by the presence of three Danielle Steel novels. Those seeking more adult fiction found Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon.

VIDEO GAMES: Playstation, goddamn. Final Fantasy VII is a record-breaking RPG considered then as now one of the truly magnificent video games. The first Grand Theft Auto also came out, and I've yet to play a single one.

Nintendo countered with the Game Of the Year, Goldeneye (yes, based on the movie that revived the moribund Bond franchise). Despite atrocious enemy AI, still one of the most engrossing games I've ever pressed "start" on.

TV: Just in time for HBO's prison drama Oz, it's TV ratings! The very first episode of anything to earn the coveted "TV-MA" was the pilot of Brooklyn South, Steven Bochco and David Milch's attempt to make a Hill Street Blues for the '90s. (Too bad they don't make 'em all like Brandon Tartikoff.) The real and actual best cop show of the decade, Homicide: Life On the Street, began its sixth season, lamentably sacrificing the heart and humor that made it so special in order to appease the suits.

Believe it or don't, the two best shows of the year were cartoons: MTV's immaculate Daria and of course, The Simpsons. Insanity peppers, dead co-workers, NYC, aliens, pretzels, John Waters, imposters…wait, scratch that last one.

FILM: Titanic was less movie, more event. Zero suspense, pretty faces, bigger is better. Suppose an attractive cast would also explain the success of As Good As It Gets, but then there's the Nicholson factor. '97 had a slew of impressive blockbusters (Men In Black, Con Air, Air Force One, The Lost World) and uncalled-for sequels (Speed 2, Scream 2, Mortal Kombat 2, Home Alone 3). Lest the likes of George Of the Jungle or Batman and Robin get you down, remember that '97 also gave the world Boogie Nights and L.A. Confidential. 

MUSIC: Rock music in one word: Reload.

Tim Gane, Steve Malkmus, Doug Martsch, bless y'all fellas. Antidotes to the Tylers and Jaggers of the world. Veruca Salt released an album, which I point out only to compare it unfavorably to Dig Me Out.

Lillith Fair remains the musical festival equivalent of the UConn women's basketball: awesome to see my sisters achieve such success, but honestly, you bitches are beginning to annoy me.

That surreptitious sucking sound? Smash Mouth. That exploding landfill? Limp Bizkit.

Countering such gelatinous American-ness, Oasis and Radiohead. Eh. Of course Blur finally broke on through with the most Yankee-sounding song they ever did.

Wu-Tang Forever might have been bloated, but shit, least it enjoyed putting on all that excess weight. What's U2's excuse?

9.   1998

BOOKS: Big ups to the UK--specifically J. K. Rowling and Nick Hornby--for avoiding stumpage. Over here, Clancy and Grisham sold millions with thrillers that shot from A to Z as loudly as possible. I'd much rather talk with someone who had their life changed by Inga Muscio's Cunt. A promotion of sisterhood, an exhortation to reclaim sexuality and relinquish learned shame…get some fuckin' sand in your toes to that.

VIDEO GAMES: '98 can be boiled down to a pair of games: Ocarina Of Time and Rogue Squadron, both for the N64. Don't argue with me. Unless you're my boyfriend, in which case, make my drink first.

TV: Introduced the funny and unspectacular That '70s Show as well as the audiovisual rice cake better known as Sex and the City. Tim Allen needed competition for "Most Repulsive Man On Television," and Kevin James answered the call. (With a wet belch, probably.)

SNL added Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz to appease those who'd bristled at Norm Macdonald. Time put Calista Flockhart on their cover alongside images of Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, and women didn't riot. (Guess we were too busy arguing about our favorite Powerpuff Girl. Blossom, for the record.)

Homicide screwed up their last season with the introduction of eye candy and long-lost Lieutenant's son. Still not as bad as NYPD Blue replacing Jimmy Smits with Danny from Silver Spoons. Are you dicking my fuck or what, Bochco?!

What other show in history has had a no-doubt great tenth season other than MST3K? Hell, how about a ninth season? Sure as sow shit wasn't Roseanne. Watching one of my all-time faves tumble so far so fast actually hurt my heart. (All that excess fat encasing it back then sure didn't help matters.)

FILM: Just once I'd like to watch a film about the impending end of the world that doesn't leave me feeling disappointed when the world does not, in fact, end.

Animation was a mixed bag, and the only hilarious comedy was The Big Lebowski. (File The Waterboy and There's Something About Mary under "questionable risibility.") Worst of all, the most pointless film of all-time came out in '98. Take a bow, Gus.

MUSIC: May 17, 1998. The best band puts out the best album.

I've grown to appreciate Sonic Youth and Cat Power's contributions even more, considering all the acts that lost their vitality in 1998: Liz Phair, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, the Beastie Boys, Anthrax. (Slayer almost made that list.) At least headbangers had System Of a Down, if they wanted them.

Did no one care that Duran Duran put their "Night Versions" out on disc finally?

Jay-Z used the white girl to get rich…again. Outkast continued being fucking amazing. Big Pun becoming the first Latino solo rapper to go platinum was cool; his being one of the most masterful lyricists the genre's ever heard, much cooler.

The end of Lollapalooza, the start of Total Request Live. Just in time for Britney! Madonna at her worst still beats Britney at her best, and Ray Of Light was definitely not Maddy's nadir. Last clutch of the crown, more like. There was no doubt where pop music was headed.

8.   1999

BOOKS: The last Harry Potter of the decade was also the last one you could drop on your foot without breaking a toe. Geeks genuflected before the offerings of Neil Stephenson and David Foster Wallace. Hannibal is on some Berenstain Bears ish compared to Cunt. Oh yeah, there was a novel titled Cunt. It's even got a delicious twist. Seriously, it's butterscotch on vanilla ice cream on peach pie on a brownie.

VIDEO GAMES: The psychological horrors of Silent Hill or the ambitious reinvention of Final Fantasy VIII, Playstation just owned. Nintendo dropped the ball with DK64, a tedious game that lost its freshness faster than you can recite "DK Rap."

The entire gamer community dropped the ball when it came to Sega's Dreamcast. The first sixth-gen console proved too innovative too soon.

TV: Damn, TV's in good shape for the new century: The Sopranos, SUV, The West Wing, Futurama. Huh? Family what? Which Guy?

Homicide concluded a generally distressing final season with one of its stronger episodes. Funny how the two best cop shows in history followed the same pattern: amazing first four seasons, great fifth season, decent season six, then a painfully half-hearted last season.

Freaks and Geeks and Home Movies were almost literally of too high a quality for network television. The host of The Daily Show went from a smirking fuckboy to someone who could actually hold a conversation. The Simpsons started shedding nuance at a frightening rate.

Meanwhile, over at 30 Rock, the women were getting ready to take over….

FILM: Entertainment Weekly crowned 1999 "The Year That Changed Hollywood." If the creative sea change was for well or ill is debatable, especially if you're an asshole. Lessee: The Matrix, Fight Club, The Sixth Sense, Toy Story 2, The Blair Witch Project, The Phantom Menace. What's most interesting to me, four of those six films were directed and/or written by people who'd follow them up with works perceived as not just inferior, but tremendously so, leading the revisionist ravens to roost.

Who could've guessed Stanley Kubrick's swan song would be outdone by Spike Jonze's cinematic coming out party? That the creator of Beavis & Butt-Head would be responsible for '99's most quotable comedy, less surprising.

Proving that not all change is welcome, and that anything with this title tends to be rubbish, American Pie. That pork meatball made Jason Biggs a star and for that, it must pay in perpetuity.

MUSIC: Raw sewage…I can smell it. When I think of the music of 1999, I think of the documentary Grizzly Man. A somewhat amusing, largely exasperating look at environmentalist Timothy Treadwell, who lived among the grizzlies in Alaskan national parks for thirteen summers. Or, to put it another way, until one of the bears decided that he'd had enough of this nosy human and ate Treadwell (and his girlfriend) alive. Before leaving his tent to confront his eventual killer, Treadwell apparently turned on his video camera (leaving the lens cap in place). A six-minute audio recording of the ensuing horror was found by law enforcement and given to one of Treadwell's closest friends. In the doc's most indelible scene, director Werner Herzog listens to the tape through headphones. He remains silent, allowing welling tears to tell the story. Herzog removes the headphones and implores Treadwell's friend to never, never listen to the tape.

1999 is one of music's most wretched years. Have you ever heard a good Collective Soul song? Have you, fuck. Christ, Lou Bega and Jennifer Lopez doing their damnedest to forever taint the numbers 5 and 6 is somehow among the least of the sins committed.

No, the true demons here are wearing red ball caps and lame tattoos. The bizarre mass ritual of Limp Bizkit's popularity really deserves the Ken Burns treatment. Fred Durst--who I like to call "Mr. Honeybunny," 'cause I just wanna rip his head clean off--became a generational spokesperson and millions of stupid people decided that nu-metal" was not just a thing, but a thing that they liked and would willingly want in their lives. What is "nu-metal"? White guys rapping or scatting over loud, dumb guitar riffs, making it the musical equivalent of candy cigarettes. Do white guys have legit grievances? Absolutely. And I wish to this day they'd actually address them, rather than misdirecting their anger. I wish they'd learn what "causality" means.

I wish I could have spent 1999 in a coma.

So relentless, the horrors. Smash Mouth invited us all to a party with Natty Light on tap, stale homemade Cheetos in cracked bowls and weed seedier than a Russian hotel. 311 had the stones to write a song called "Come Original," namedrop NOFX and Black Eyed Peas as examples of musical innovation, and somehow weren't blocked from re-entering America at the first available opportunity.

Boy bands ruled. I lived through New Kids. That was bad enough. The late Nineties gave me the New Kids again, then the New Kids again. I thought Meat Loaf's inexplicable return to glory was abhorrent? Ladies and gentlemen, Carlos Santana!

TLC, Sleater-Kinney and Lauryn Hill at least repped, and well, for the women. Sadly, the likes of "No Scrubs," "Start Together," and "Everything Is Everything" were sapphires in the cow dung. Sammy Hagar, the Scorpions and Dokken all put out albums. Ringo Starr and Amy Grant each released Christmas albums.

Thanks to Jim O'Rourke and Stereolab for letting me chug out of the water jug. No thanks to Pavement for tucking tail and running. Boredoms spun the sun for an hour and I still suspect I underpaid. DMX kept releasing music, and barking in every song, and damnit, I miss that crazy crackhead. Raekwon and GZA followed up classics with…not classics. Sigh.

7.   1992

BOOKS: Drifting away to All the Pretty Horses and She's Come Undone was fine. I and lots of other people did so. Still, I swear, if you didn't like Bastard Out Of Carolina, the hell with ya. Oh, and take The Bridges Of Madison County with ya. One for each hand.

VIDEO GAMES: My three most-played of the year: Super Mario Kart, Kirby's Dream Land, and Wolfenstein 3D. That's SNES, Gameboy and PC.

TV: I used to loathe the very idea of pineapple on pizza. Then, the guy I was fucking--who loved pineapple on pizza, almost as much as he loved fucking me--turned me into a believer. I returned the favor by telling him about this hilarious show with Garry Shandling on HBO.

Seinfeld and The Simpsons each got their sea legs this year. American TV is the best!

MTV debuted The Real World. American TV is the worst!

British TV is rarely the best or worst, so it was a big deal indeed when the first series of Absolutely Fabulous aired on BBC. I'll stab a bitch over that show, incidentally.

Pissing off the religious is a noble pursuit. There is no such thing as a "wrong time" or "wrong place" to tell sanctimonious sphincter sores how weeping they are. Hope everyone who spoke out against Sinead O'Connor feels duly ashamed--even if they'd never admit it to even themselves.

FILM: Disney in the 1990s, my gawd. I'm forever iffy on Robin Williams as an actor; as a voice actor, though, guy was untouchable.

Blow up a small country in a film, some eyebrows might lift. Chick with no panties crosses her legs, it's the end of Western civilization. Moviegoers spotted a few rare birds--the watchable film based on an SNL character, and a pair of winsome sports flicks.

Time can be dickish. A Few Good Men is more a catchphrase than a full film. The Crying Game is more a salacious twist than a full film. Glengarry Glen Ross is more a rant than a full film. At least Malcolm X emerged unscathed.

Really, though, '92 is all about which dog you preferred: the sinner or the St. Bernard.

MUSIC: Jesus, '90s pop could make me strap two poodles to my ears and start a fight with a Rottweiler.

Yeah, Slanted and Enchanted sent the indie world into a frenzy. Guess what? Midas missed it like a Wallace family Christmas. Sonic Youth's actual "sellout" album, Dirty, set the charts on fire, all right…sufficient for a single s'more, perhaps.

Athens, GA went 1-for-2. (Good Stuff so so fucking ain't, y'all.) Add heroin to mud, you get Dirt. Metalheads took solace in Pantera, whose Vulgar Display Of Power dared to be unabashedly metal in the eye of Hurricane Kurt. The cowboys from hell refused to smooth their edges to survive, nor did they scurry back underground as a form of protest.

White America giggled to "Baby Got Back," while Redman and Gang Starr low-key created exceptional music.

6.   1996

BOOKS: For Fight Club and A Game Of Thrones alone, I gotta give the 9-6 proper due. Add in some politics, some dystopic satire heavy enough to kill an rhino, you know sometimes I forget books are under no obligation to be entertaining.

VIDEO GAMES: Nah, Tomb Raider was cool. Just, I grew up on Metroid. What's a tank top to an arm cannon?

My heart belonged to a single title this year. Super Mario 64, I will never place another ahead of you.

TV: Oh, boob tube, you tried. Lithgow, wow! Fox-y! Italian David Schwimmer! Seinfeld picked a fine time to peak with Season 7, AKA "Dancing and Dying."

Homicide, sweet Homicide. Lily Tomlin in her creepiest role since Moment By Moment, Bruce Campbell as a grief-stricken cop, a wedding, an off-screen birth, and a near-death. Meanwhile that other cop show, NYPD BLUE, had their "lovable bigot" Sipowicz drop the "n-bomb" as if daring audiences to turn their backs, not grasping that a lot of the character's biggest fans would forgive him anything up to and including the execution of an unarmed drug lord in front of his children.

Nickelodeon rolled out the nostalgia network TV Land. Plenty of mid-century fluff for the old folks, but what was fucking with the drama block?

The Simpsons, actually. Their brilliant seventh season stuck a flawless landing, and the eighth season featured "A Milhouse Divided," a vital episode since it contains the most gut-busting visual gag in the show's history.

FILM: What a dudely year. Disaster porn, spy porn, military porn. People still really liked Tom Cruise and Adam Sandler.

I've watched Twister once. I've watched Fargo three times, once while showering.

Trainspotting scandalized American conservatives and gave the UK film industry a temporary chubby that they ended up using to piss over a knee wall.

MUSIC: Rock in a word: Load. Metallica got haircuts and ended Lollapalooza. I'd say it was worth it just to read Lars Ulrich in interviews blabbing about how "the alternative is now mainstream, what's the big deal?" and claiming that his band's been alternative since putting a ballad on their second album, but you know as well as I know that that would just be a droopy-faced lie.

Incentivized mimicry and implacable dilution took the 9-3 for the 9-6. Candlebox and Matchbox Twenty were Nickelback before Nickelback. The Wallflowers, boy howdy, the apple catapulted from that fuckin' tree.

Heroin maintained a strong presence. Besides nearly taking out the vocalists of Depeche Mode and Pantera, it did the job on Sublime's Brad Nowell months before his band's self-titled album KROQ-eted up the charts on its way to a baffling five million copies sold. (They are arguably the most creatively-bereft band of the Nineties, and yes bro I will hella say it to your face.)

The West Coast dependably supplied the crap in '96. Everclear--an utterly unremarkable group fronted by a Cali careerist who relocated to Portland with visions of small ponds dancing in his head--made me vow to never visit the city of Santa Monica, a full six years before I wound up having to stay there for four nights.

The Spice Girls were basically babies. Cute at first, it made me smile to see them smile, and then they spit and shit all over themselves.

At least R&B was more DTF than ever before.

Outkast from the Dirty South, Redman from Dirty Jerz, so the West Coast came in and cleaned up. Jay-Z released his first full-length, and there's a difference between being ill and being Illmatic. Which, ahem, Nas followed up this year with It Was Written. Deliberately went mainstream and produced a near-classic, now you calculate those odds and get back to me.

5.   1990

BOOKS: John Updike polished off the "Rabbit" saga (fat SOB receives redemption, dies), James Ellroy kept the "L.A. Quartet" rolling, and the Bourne legacy continued. No book appeared on more beaches and in more planes, though, than Michael Crichton's dinosaur tale.

VIDEO GAMES: Super Mario Brothers and Mega Man? Charmed!

TV: Law & Order and Seinfeld? Pull over NBC, that ass too fat. Twin Peaks inspired snobs to purchase TV sets. The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air gave the airwaves some much-needed color.

Season five of The Golden Girls got serious, almost gravely so: Blanche had heart surgery, and Rose had an HIV scare. Season six continued the sudsy trend; thanks to sharp writing and bravura performances, it remained irresistible viewing.

Muppet Babies, You Can't Do That On Television! and Ducktales all ceased producing new eppys. Haha, fuck kids!

The Simpsons went to the bowling alley, the baseball field and the putt-putt course, walking away a record-setting champion from each.

FILM: A tale of two mobster flicks. One, a classic that could not have been improved upon. The other, a good movie that thanks to a father's blind love, is forever a "what could have been."

A tale of two domestic comedies. One featuring a white kid who doesn't know enough to call the police. The other, featuring black kids who know enough not to.

A tale of two Arnies. One a late 21st-century construction worker with a disturbing dream life. One, an undercover cop who finds his true passion when he goes back to school.

Sequels had it rough. Robocop 2 and Look Who's Talking Too deserved all the rotten squash, but it took time (and video rentals) for audiences to appreciate the follow-up to Gremlins.

Ghost for the parents, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for their kids. At least the kids whose parents loved them. If not, it was off to Problem Child they went!

MUSIC: The Nineties left the starting blocks roadrunner-style.

1990 was the year I discovered Sonic Youth. 1990 was one of heavy metal's finest showings: killer albums from Megadeth, Anthrax, Pantera, and the surprising, scintillating return of Judas Priest.

Fugazi, Pixies and Jane's Addiction. Wood, wool, double platinum. Rollovers from '89 that pleasantly dominated radio included the B-52s, Depeche Mode, and Janet Jackson. Mariah Carey was new, thus fresh, and New Kids On the Block had a top 10 hit with "Tonight," a song that would make Jeff Lynne giddy.

Prince and Madonna began losing the plot. The less I say about Devo, the better. Duran Duran released an album that had one notable single--for a band that once released an entire album of singles, that's just unacceptable.

While Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer tried to make the hip hop genre a laughingstock to mainstream America, Salt N Pepa and Digital Underground made music that was fun, funny, but no joke. And related to that, Eric B. & Rakim released an album this year. Also, it's impossible to smile while listening to Amerikkka's Most Wanted. Try.

4.   1994

BOOKS: 1994 belonged to non-fake stuff. I mean…three Danielle Steel novels in one year, fuck me.

The Bell Curve was the year's most infuriatingly controversial read--possibly racist, certainly pointless. Prozac Nation proved (?) not all depression is created equal and Get In the Van convinced me Henry Rollins has never tongue-kissed another human being in his life.

VIDEO GAME: Dubbed "The Year Of the Cartridge" by no less an authority than Nintendo. Donkey Kong Country was the crop's cream, an endlessly enjoyable experience (at least until "Mine Kart Madness") without a plumber in sight.

TV: Hi, Friends! In no time, you will be the most talked-about show on television, featuring the most fawned-over cast! Women will emulate your haircuts, men will parrot your catchphrases! Other than adorable oddball Phoebe/Lisa Kudrow, I will grow to actively despise each of you on and off the screen!

The medical drama came back in a huge way. ER made stars of a nerd, heir to a hair product fortune, and the future husband of Amal Alamuddin. 

Bittersweet farewells to: Star Trek: The Next Generation left the air after seven seasons, while Phil Hartman departed from Saturday Night Live after eight outstanding years.

Ebullient greetings to: Duckman, an animated series about a cynical, crude private detective duck. Unappreciated at the time (airing on USA Network will do that to a show) and unappreciated at this time. Guys…sex-crazed duck voiced by Jason Alexander! There's nothing else you'd rather be watching! Slightly more people watched The Critic, a show from two producers/writers of The Simpsons. Because hey if we're gonna have to put up with Jon Lovitz, may as well be "cartoon Jon Lovitz."

FILM: Don't let the majesty of James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair's second-greatest film collaboration fool you; don't be taken in by chrono rejigger; temper your excitement over a well-done Stephen King adaptation. 1994 is still the year where millions flocked to see Tom Hanks play a character whose cabinet is missing more than just a few cups.

Not to mention a Richie Rich flick. Piss in a cup and call it a lunch, ya artless pricks.

MUSIC: R.E.M. in the Eighties--Rolling Stone darlings, true heartland rock. R.E.M. in the Nineties--one of the world's biggest bands Henry Rollins in the Eighties--human chainsaw, better than Keith/not better than Dez. Henry Rollins in the Nineties--multi-media iconoclast.

1994 is rightly considered the pinnacle for "mainstream alternative." Each of the so-called "Big 4 Of Grunge" had an album reach the top spot of the Billboard Top 200, Beck had a top 10 hit, extensive interviews with Thurston Moore appeared in major music magazines, Meat Puppets went from signaling scorpions to selling half a million albums. Green Day and Offspring went from broke punks to breaking punk, or at least the sort of punk that values words over actions. And still neither SY nor Pavement could go gold. (If it's any consolation, no figure in indie rock history has been selected as the "F" in games of "FMK" more times than Steve Malkmus.)

Big picture, people: the number one song of the the year was "The Sign." Toad the Wet Sprocket was a thing that happened. Mind, they sounded like the Byrds compared to those ham-fisted turkey heads in Live. With song titles like "Tired Of 'Me'" and "Operation Spirit (The Tyranny Of Tradition)" and lyrics such as "It's the way we sing/That makes 'em dream," of course these assclowns went platinum. David Byrne got to work with the B-52s, so naturally Jerry Harrison would one day produce a band led by bootleg Michael Stipe.

Oh hey, remember when Rage Against the Machine infiltrated the machine from the inside and transferred the power back to the artists?

Hip hop golden age in full effect with the debuts of Biggie Smalls and Nas.

3.   1995

BOOKS: Michael Crichton knew exactly what he'd done. From the moment he started writing The Lost World to the moment he stopped writing.

Philip Roth's demented Sabbath's Theater reminds me that the '90s are only matched by the '70s for fiction that makes me think men are complete trash. (And that women are incomplete trash.)

VIDEO GAMES: Hiya, Playstation.

Mortal Kombat 3 and Tekken 2 kept me vowing I'd one day learn how to throw a real-life punch. Yoshi's Island and Donkey Kong Country 2, I gotta wonder if anyone would choose to be human. Oh, and Chrono Trigger is the best RPG to date.

TV: Full House off the air at last!

"King Size Homer." That is all.

The fourth Star Trek series, and first to feature a female captain, began its troubled run. I swear, I'll watch Voyager one of these days. I'm kinda more interested in the show starring fat Kate Mulgrew these days.

"The Soup Nazi." I will never stop marveling at society's proclivity to see or hear a good thing and decide to ruin that thing.

Over on SNL, the Janeane Garofolo Experiment came to an end. Lorne Michael's decided "rebuilding" was in order, and brought on two unfunny people (Jim Breuer and Colin Quinn), with two kinda funny people (Chris Kattan and Cheri Oteri) and a gifted impressionist (Darrell Hammond). I was just happy to not see Sandler's dumb face anymore.

FILM: Bad stuff first. I actually saw Mortal Kombat and Species in a movie theater. At least with the latter, I had some enjoyment as I sat and called out plot turns and character fates well in advance. Remember, this was 1995. Pre-Google. And no, I hadn't read a single review or spoken to anyone who'd already seen the film. I was just that good. No…I mean, Hollywood is just that bad.

More than just the first feature-length film to be entirely computer-generated, Toy Story felt more authentic than pretty much any other film featuring real people.

Clueless and Kids were teen films that both represented and revolutionized the milieus they showed. Seven was the rare thriller with a diverse palate. The Brady Bunch Movie proved that a tough love relationship with your source material can actually work sometimes.

Crazy that Gregg Araki is still around, 'cause that motherfucker cannot make a movie to save his life.

MUSIC: The last gasp of salable alt-rock, a world where Royal Trux gets a Rolling Stone write-up. Sonic Youth, Pavement, Fugazi and Yo La Tengo release great albums that don't sell shit compared to the larceny squad, headed this year by England's Bush. The name "Steve Albini" started to mean nothing around this time. Usually the U.S. is good about rejecting the snot-smears our mom dates, but we as a nation slipped, fell and busted upon our motherfuckin' heads in '95. Fuck Oasis. If I want reheated Beatles (and sometimes I do), ELO made thirteen albums. (You know what I don't want? Actual reheated Beatles produced by the guy in ELO.)

A year after Cobain's death, his widow and bandmate are on the charts with unoriginal music that nevertheless sells, 'cause it still sounds better than most anything else on the radio. (I missed Nirvana so badly, it took me four listens to realize that Dandelion song sucked.) In the spirit of artistic fearlessness, both Smashing Pumpkins and Guided By Voices released a 28-track album. Only one piled on the overdubs like a guy strapping on rubber after rubber in hopes it will make his dick look bigger.

Courtney had to share space on the angry couch with Alanis and Gwen while Hootie and the Blowfish arm-wrestled Counting Crows for light beer and diet soda. Hip hop, thankfully, sounded as safe as a trip to Action Park. 2Pac, Mobb Deep and Raekwon were just a few of the young gentlemen who wrote songs about fucking you up rather than actually fucking you up.

2.   1991

BOOKS: Why bother with A Thousand Acres or The Firm when there's American Psycho. Hell, even Generation X has a certain, "I'm glad I lowered my standards for this" charm.

Every woman in the country should have been forced to read Backlash. Actually, please allow me to amend that: every woman in the country should be forced to read Backlash.

Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon introduced readers to the busiest murder police in America with Homicide: A Year On the Killing Streets. Required reading for all true crime buffs.

VIDEO GAMES: No game, no matter how awesome, shone as bright as a single console, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The SNES, the ess-en-ee-ess, the Snez. Do you conceive of how willing to sustain and inflict serious injury people are over a 16-bit sugar shack?

TV: For foisting Tim Allen upon the world, I will forever live a "Fuck Home Improvement" life. (That motherfucker in the hat can sit and spin, too.)

Dinosaurs made me laugh for like two episodes, probably not even consecutive ones.

Nickelodeon animation OD'ed on spinach: Doug, Rugrats and this little show Ren & Stimpy. I cried when I had to miss the third-ever episode during its original run. (I've forgiven my mother; never will I forget.)

"Fasten your seat belt, slut puppy"--The Golden Girls began their seventh and final season. I leave you with these six words: "The Case Of the Libertine Belle."

FILM: T2 for the thrills, Silence Of the Lambs for the chills, Beauty and the Beast proving Disney "and stiiiilll." Boyz N Da Hood and Thelma and Louise were two peas in a pod, when I think on it. Once is all you may be able to watch 'em, and once is all you'll need.

It still tickles me that The Addams Family nearly outgrossed Hook domestically.

MUSIC: Y'all ready for this? A cast of musical misfits took the stage(s) or the first-ever Lollapalooza, a traveling festival of assorted artistic endeavor conceived by Jane's Addiction singer Perry Farrell. I could probably do a list ranking Lollapalooza lineups, and might still, if I absolutely run out of ideas.

My Bloody Valentine spearheaded elliptical water-logged rock in the late '80s, and '91 heard them take it a league lower. Seattle, which had not yet become unbearable, provided the last months of the year with some incredible records by the likes of Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Nirvana.

It would've been quite easy to ignore the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Yet, so many of us did not.

My idea of Hell is falling asleep to "Wind Of Change" and waking up to "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You." Or is that the other way 'round? Those aren't songs; they're tumors that I'll never be able to extirpate.

1.   1993

BOOKS: The Pulitzer for made-up stuff went to E. Annie Proulx's The Shipping News, one of the sneakiest roller coasters I've ever paid to ride. Jeffrey Eugenides's Virgin Suicides was tenderly wrought and surprisingly funny. (Trainspotting was also released this year, but wouldn't find its way into my hands for another two years.)

VIDEO GAMES: A fun year for the console crowd. Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam in our homes! Add in Super Mario All-Stars and Kirby's Adventure, it's no surprise I gained like forty pounds in '93.

TV: Biggest show of the decade that I never gave a damn about? The X-Files. Meanwhile everyone's running around telling me "The truth is out there," while I knew the actual truth was much closer--75 miles away in Baltimore. Based on David Simon's non-fiction book, the pilot for Homicide: Life On the Street debuted on NBC immediately after Super Bowl XXVII (the second-highest scoring ever) to disappointing ratings. With producer Tom Fontana (St. Elsewhere) and Barry Levinson (Rain Man) attached, the network gave Homicide a nine-episode first season.

NBC didn't have much time to mourn the death of Cheers. Producers and writers from that long-running sitcom moved right on to a proper spin-off, Frasier, quite possibly the most sophisticated American sitcom, and a prime example of how crucial scribes are to the small screen.

I have to admit, I gave up too early on Deep Space Nine. I am only now atoning.

It's aged worse than Ed Asner, but for its time, Beavis & Butt-Head was like nothing else on the tube. MST3K wrapped its fourth (finest) season with an acned beast and a pass through old El Paso. The cool kids tuned in to Nick for our fix, courtesy a wallaby named Rocko and two brothers named Pete.

THE SIMPSONS. THE motherfucking SIMPSONS. 1993 contained the second half of season four and the first half of season five. I mean, just in case I hadn't yet convinced you 1993 was the greatest year for TV of the entire decade.

FILM: Dinosaurs! Holocaust! The most prominent Tom Hanks film I've not yet watched!

Mrs. Doubtfire has aged better than the logical part of my brain keeps insisting. Not so lucky--Sleepless In Seattle.

Lots of overlooked comedies in '93: Groundhog Day, Men In Tights, The Sandlot. Having just seen it recently, I need a tight essay on why Last Action Hero is so maligned.

Nothing worse than Dennis the Menace, unless it was Super Mario Brothers, unless it was Coneheads. Fuck you, Akyroyd.

MUSIC: So yeah…the continued existence of Aerosmith, the sudden reappearance of Meat Loaf, Prince changing his name, that goddamn 4 Non Blondes song… not looking good, 9-tray. Luckily, two stubborn scruffy saviors approach from the land of rain and trees.

So much great rock music under the radar: Melvins, Fugazi, Gumball, Polvo. Liz Phair's sophomore record underwhelmed, although the first single was pure honey biscuits. And my God, the overdue return of Duran Duran to pop prominence! Still thyself, heart!

'93 was also the last year Billy Corgan could be considered even remotely tolerable as a human being. That fuckin' guy. Tom Scholz reincarnated as a self-loathing twatcake, Corgan desired the approval and acceptance of not just the masses, but also those same "snobs" who snubbed his glamorous confessional alt-rock and whined when he couldn't win them over.

The golden age of rap began officially on 11/9/93. On that day, two masterpieces blessed record store racks: Midnight Marauders and Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers. So whenever our current political climate threatens to drag you entirely underneath, just relax yourself, reset plan…tiger style.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Re-Examining "The Good Decade"--Intro

The 1990s cannot be the greatest decade. They are behind, at least, the 1980s. Possibly, they trail the 1960s as well. For sheer nostalgic force, though, the Nineties cannot currently be topped. I'm almost positive the rush of wistfulness is down to the fact that it was the final decade of the proceeding century, before mankind gave in to the temptation of the apple again (for the first time). The Clinton era. When fame took effort and things seemed to matter.

Okay, I'll bite.

Going only by the entertainment aspect of popular culture, I'll rank every year of the decade. No fashion, sports, technology, news or politics allowed.

Then I'll attack Rolling Stone's "Top 50 Songs of the Nineties."

Then I'll attend a pig wedding.

Look forward to me, damnit.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Monday, August 7, 2017

Get This Work: The Music of Shonen Knife


Full-length #20, drummer #68. At least Atsuko's still in Rocket #9.

"Jump Into the New World"--Enter the No Apprehension Zone. A bad episode of The West Wing, a good U2 song. Y'know--less sheen, more edge.

Thanks for not X'ing out.

"Rock N Roll T-Shirt"--Def Leppard? Naw, Metallica. Shirt-wise, I mean. This ain't "Photograph," but it ain't "No Leaf Clover" neither. A person's strut is proportional to what's covering their chest. Letters colors lines--mind the tag.

"Calabash"--Would you rather be lucky or charming? Impressive and unnecessary, like a Bozzio drum kit.

"Dog Fight"--The tacos in Ron, Mexico are too peppery for me.

"Wasabi"--"Why is it so hot?"

Why isn't levitation taught in schools? Try eating snakes in a can. Nein gut. The black leather groove of a 55-year-old woman is a sunrise.

"Green Tangerine (Kabosu)"--Tasty number (oh ho), purely for the young of tongue. In another universe, Shonen Knife reigns as the best Ramones cover band; in still another, the Shirelles with instruments.

"Imi (Emoji)"--Devil horn clown face green heart. Adorably high-energy and low-sugar. If you feel guilty, well, that's y'own fault.

"Hawaii"--Peace, love and loco moco. My arms are up, my eyes are shut. Swaying is saving is savoring.

"Tasmanian Devil"--What else could this song be but a Dalmatian puppy with an unpeeled banana in its mouth?

"Cotton Candy Clouds"--Tomorrow always knows. Thus why it exudes confidence as today quivers and twitches on dry land.

Are the airplanes made of funnel cake? Why not.

Ten songs, thirty-four minutes. Chocolate, peanut butter. For real, forever. Lovely together and never to be torn asunder, do you hear me, Reese's Pieces?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Better In Your Head? Books vs. Movies, the Conclusion

Eight months ago, I began the "Better In Your Head?" review series to A) give me a break from writing about music and B) see how the cliche of "the book is always better" held up under fair scrutiny.

55 books turned into 58 movies. Eight movies turned out superior to their black-and-white source material--a 14.5% clip.

The Godfather (the best ever adaptation of a novel)
The Wizard of Oz

Bang the Drum Slowly
Casino Royale
The Spy Who Loved Me

Four of those films are undisputed classics. Seven were box office hits. So what does that tell me? It is better in your head, and any exceptions must be truly exceptional.

Sunday, July 30, 2017


J.K. Rowling

July 21 is a great date to release things into the world. Ernest Hemingway, Sonic Youth's second sellout album. Anticipation for the seventh and final installment of the blockbusting Harry Potter saga was so great it made worldwide news. Lines of eager readers formed outside bookstores, dominating entire blocks, some decked out in costumes. It wasn't a mere book release, sweeties, it was a happening

Deathly Hallows is still the fastest-selling book of all the times, with fifteen million copies snapped up in the first 24 hours. Was it worth it? Ist ein Eisbär Hoden kalt?

Lord Voldemort is taking over. Severus Snape, his mole of long-standing, reports that the Order of the Phoenix will be removing Harry Potter from the Dursley home four days before he turns seventeen, and loses the blood protection he's had over him since his mother's murder. Pounding back Polyjuice potion like angel's spit, six members of the Order turn into Harry. Along with the real deal, and seven protectors, they take to the sky. The Death Eaters ambush. George Weasley loses an ear, Harry loses an owl, and Moody loses a life. As Moody was a man, and not a cat, he's gone for good.

Joy can be keenly felt in even the most tumultuous times, and the impeding nuptials of Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour keep spirits at the Burrow high. More or less. Hermione's still coming to grips with having wiped her parents' memories of her before sending them out of the country. Then there's Harry, trying to reconcile the fact that the fate of the free Wizarding world rests in his hands, yet he has no solid plan of action.

Minister Scrimgeour arrives bearing Dumbledore's will, and three items he bequeathed: a Deluminator for Ron, a book for Hermione, and for Harry, the very first Golden Snitch he ever caught in a Quidditch match. (He also left the Sword of Gryffindor for the Boy Who Lived, but it's gone missing.)

The Death Eaters are kind enough to wait until the actual wedding part of the festivities has gone down before assassinating the Minister and bumrushing the show. Harry, Ron and Hermione disapparate together, winding up at Number Twelve Grimmauld Place.

Speaking with Kreacher, Harry solves the mystery of who left the note in the fake Slytherin's locket: Regulus Black, brother of Sirius, a former Death Eater foolish enough to think he could defect and not feel the wrath of his former master. His revenge on the Dark Lord was to replace the locket Horcrux with a duplicate. Regulus died in the act, but Kreacher was able to take the locket to Grimmauld Place (although, as he laments, not able to destroy it). OOTP member Mundungus Fletcher would later steal it for his back alley fencing operation, which is where none other than Dolores Umbridge took it in exchange for not putting him in prison.

The trio sip some Polyjuice and infiltrate the Ministry of Magic, now a hotbed of propaganda and harassment. Twatcakes like Umbridge flourish in such environments. Having a piece of her hero  stolen from her by a blood traitor, half-blood and Muggleborn must have really singed her bountiful butt-hairs.

The fun really starts when they (well, Hermione) accidentally blow their cover at Grimmauld Place. Camping trip, which they can do since Hermione has a bottomless bag of all sorts of useful items. One thing they can't do? Destroy that goddamn locket. So each of the three take turns wearing it, switching off once the bad vibes emanating from the cursed jewelry become unbearable.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the locket's jibes affect Ron most profoundly, to the point he abandons the two people he swore to die beside.

Hermione and Harry continue the desperate quest. Where the hell would Voldemort hide bits of his soul? They try Godric's Hollow, the village where Harry's parents lived and died. There is indeed a Horcrux there, and it nearly kills them both before they can flee.

Wandering 'round in the Forest of Dean, Harry spots a silver doe Patronus. He follows it to a freezing lake, at the bottom of which lies the sword of Gryffindor. Once he grabs the sword, the locket 'round his neck begins strangling him. It's the ignominious end of Harry Potter, except no, 'cause who drags him out of the lake but ya baby mama's favorite chess player, Ronald fucking Weasley.

The locket starts belching Ron's inferiority complex, but he's a true Gryffindor. Another Horcrux down.

Harry is understandably, "Dude?" Ron explains he'd been staying with Bill and Fleur, wracking his brain for a way to get back to his mates. The answer came when he turned on the Deluminator gifted him by Dumbledore and heard Hermione's voice uttering his name.

Oh, and about uttering names…a Taboo curse has been placed on the name "Voldemort," meaning anyone brazen enough to utter it--AKA, members of the Order of the Phoenix--will be immediately beset upon by the Dark Lord's "Snatchers."

Ron's return reinvigorates the search. The group visit Xenophilius Lovegood, hoping to find out more about a mysterious symbol that's been popping up in their quest (the same one that appeared on the back of Tom Riddle's ring). XL's been pretty bummed since Snatchers abducted his daughter Luna, but he patiently explains what the symbol is and what it represents: the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone, and the Invisibility Cloak. Together, they comprise the Deathly Hallows. Anyone who could claim ownership of all three items would be considered the master of death.

After helping the trio, Xenophilius then helps out the Snatchers by snitching on Harry. One of Hermione's more overlooked moments of brilliance enables them to escape.

Voldemort is not one to have others do all of his dirty work, though. Only he could break into Dumbledore's tomb and steal the Elder Wand.

Yell all you want at Ron for leaving, it's Harry who says the name "Voldemort" and gets 'em all snatched up. At Malfoy Manor, an entirely too-thrilled Bellatrix Lestrange orders the boys to the cellar (where they join Luna, Dean Thomas, the goblin Griphook and wandmaker Ollivander) while Hermione is hit repeatedly with the Cruciatus Curse. When Bella demands to know how they ended up with the sword, Hermione tries an enormous bluff that pays off when Griphook plays along. While this is going on, Harry takes out a shard of the mirror Sirius Black gave him way back in Order of the Phoenix and asks for help.

It's hero time, Dobby! As a token of eternal gratitude, accept this mortal knife wound.

Over a couple weeks at Bill and Fleur's place, Harry and the Helpersons concoct a plan to break into Bellatrix's vault at Gringotts. He suspects that the cup of Helga Hufflepuff is within its walls, and that it is also a Horcrux. Thanks to some stray hairs, Hermione is able to Polyjuice into her tormentor. Ron accompanies her in disguise, while Harry and Griphook shuffle along under the Cena cloak. Things go unbelievably great (they get the cup) and then predictably terrible (Griphook sells them out). Any day you can exit a building via dragon, though, must be considered a successful one.

Back to school.

Horcruxes are getting destroyed left and right. Ron and Hermione take out the Cup (and finally kiss). Then the diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw perishes in Fiendfyre that one of Malfoy's idiot chums lets fly in the Room of Requirement.

Pretty much everyone who has ever been in a Harry Potter book shows up to fight the Battle of Hogwarts. A chastened Percy Weasley appears, and his timing is impeccable, since Fred Weasley is killed by flying wall just a short time later. (A neat set-up for all the copies of Deathly Hallows that hit walls right after.)

Voldemort kills Snape to become master of the Elder Wand. Or so he thinks. See, what had happened, Draco Malfoy became master of the Elder Wand the moment he disarmed Dumbledore atop the Astronomy Tower. Then, during the escape from Malfoy Manor, Harry disarmed Draco, meaning he is now the master of the Elder Wand. And the Elder Wand will never kill its master.

Before Snape goes all the way over, Harry finds him. Snape pulls out one last memory, and breathes his last.

So much insane stuff has happened by the time Harry realizes he's a Horcrux, I couldn't even be surprised. Of course Harry must die, or at least, that part of Voldemort squirming inside of him must die. The Dark Lord takes down young Harry with the AK, sending him to a metaphysical recreation of Kings Cross Station, a sort of limbo where he speaks with the spirit of Albus Dumbledore. Even in the afterlife, old Alby Dumby is a calming fount of wisdom. By using Harry's blood to regain a biped form, Voldemort inadvertently shielded him from dying.

(This is why you have consultants; surely one would have pointed out the hitches in the whole immortality scheme.).

Voldemort announces the death of Harry Potter. Premature jocularity ensues. Then Harry pops up off the ground, and the audience explodes like they'd just seen zombie Linda McMahon come up off the stool. After taking the time to break down for Voldemort the myriad of ways in which he failed, Harry takes him down at last.

But wait there's more! An epilogue, set nineteen years after the Battle, just specific enough and just vague enough to piss off hundreds of thousands, possibly millions.

Hopefully by now any and all peeved at the admittedly slipshod coda have taken to heart the lesson at the core of not just Deathly Hallows but in the six preceding volumes: love outlasts hate, so good will always triumph over evil. Voldemort could not fathom love, much less feel it, thus he was unable to prepare an adequate defense or offense against a boy so caring and cared for.

Director-David Yates
Writer-Steve Kloves

Wherein, the producers do to the final book what they could have done to the last four: split the meffer.

Part One is essentially two hours of set-up. Everything that needs to happen, happens. One thing that didn't need to happen, ever, in any universe, in any draft of any script, happened.

Ron's gone. Harry and Hermione are sad. They're out in the woods, cold and hungry, with no clue what to do next. Harry turns up the radio. They dance to Nick Cave's "O Children."

Are you kidding me, Kloves? I'd rather watch myself die. At least that's canon.

Other than that horrific error in basic human decency, Part One gives fans much to embrace. The Tale of the Three Brothers sequence is E for emosawa, and finally the three main actors coalesce! Daniel Radcliffe's earnestness is more sincerely enjoyable than any film since the second. Emma Watson kills it at last! And no one had to slap her forehead or shave her eyebrows! Rupert Grint shows that he's much more than comic relief, nailing the darker side of Ron.

I shan't forget the others. Bonnie Wright is such a special actress. She weakens the skillset of anyone she shares screen time with. Absolutely she could turn Helen Mirren into Helen Hunt. Seeing Imelda Staunton again gave me a phantom seizure. Actors show up to play Remus, Tonks, Bill and Fleur, but if the script didn't care I doubt you will either.

And the ending--the middle?--is nice and evil.

Remus Lupin fans deep down had to appreciate his diminished role considering that the book shows Remus at his weakest moment. He shows up at Grimmauld Place and offers to accompany the trio on their hunt. Yep, he would much rather join their little gang and rush headlong towards certain death than be a husband and father.

Half-ass job with Lupin and Tonks, a half-ass job with Bill Weasley's scars--that adds up to one whole ass! Listen, Bill in the books was left so fucked up by Fenrir Greyback that pretty much everyone in his family expected his fiancee to haul her haughty ass back to France. Rowling used the word "grotesque." A couple neat and tidy scars down the cheeks does not equal grotesque.

Nuance? No, dance. A bone for the H/Hr shippers that the rest of us can choke on. Between that and the Horcrux kiss, I'm so glad I didn't see Pt. 1 in a theater. My Steve Spurrier impression would not have proven popular.

The Ron/Hermione moments that do make the movies must have killed Kloves, but they're nothing compared to what's in the book.

Radcliffe and Grint are mesmerizing during the tent fight. Still, replacing Ron's "I get it. You choose him" with the more soap opera-sounding "I saw you two the other night" shows just how much Steve Kloves did not get Ron.

I hope whoever suggested the use of silhouette animation for the "Three Brothers" segment was eventually given oral sex until they passed out as a reward.

Bellatrix torturing Hermione, ultimately another misstep in the movie. The torture itself is played well by Emma Watson and Helena Bonham Carter, with the former letting out some fantastically chilling screams. In the book, however, she wasn't the only one. In the cellar below, hearing the love of his life getting Crucio'ed to within an inch of her sanity, Ron is going out of his mind, screaming Hermione's name over and over, pounding walls. Heartbreaking. In the movie? Just have Rupert make faces.

All right, to be fair, the torture sequence actually had to be cut to keep the rating PG-13. Wouldn't want to upset the kids! That's also why they had Dobby stun Wormtail. Bullshit. If you've read the book, you know how Wormtail goes out. So hardcore.

Speaking of Dobby, maybe his death would have hit just a bit harder if he had actually shown up in any movie between Chamber of Secrets and this one.

I wonder what non-readers thought when they saw the mirror shard. Hell, even I had to think for a minute.

The Elder Wand is not to be confused with the Elder Juan, a nice old fellow who lived on the same block as my family in southwest Texas back in the early Seventies. Juan taught my mom everything she still knows about genuine Mexican cuisine. Why she never started up a restaurant named Gringo Star is beyond me.

I'd have zero qualms with people Poly'ing my juice. Who wouldn't want to possess my tits, even if for a limited time only?

Muggleborns are under suspicion, dragged from their homes and brought before the Ministry on suspicion of having "stolen" their magical powers. That's what I love about these books, they're so fantastical.

There are five exceptions to "Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration," one of which is food. Food cannot be created from thin air, however, it can be enlarged, multiplied or summoned from a particular location. For all the bitching that the trio did about insufficient sustenance whilst in the woods, they should have been able to "increase the quantity" of whatever food they did acquire, be it mushrooms, fish whatever. Hermione herself points this out! Yet there's no evidence they ever did so. How do you explain it away when a wizard didn't do it?

Arthur Weasley is the Secret Keeper for the Burrow. Bill Weasley is the Secret Keeper for Shell Cottage. Why didn't James Potter just act as the Secret Keeper for the house at Godric's Hollow, then? Why trust some other man, much less one with the initials P.P?

I don't usually pay attention to fan theories, since most of them are embarrassing wish fulfillment, but this one? I had to stand up just to sit back down.

Hear me out--Brian Blessed as Hagrid. Holding the assumed corpse of the savior, he staggers away from Lord Voldemort and his gleefully villainous cadre, stopping after several feet to drop the body onto the ground. With a long piteous moan, Hagrid pulls at his filthy shirt with one meaty hand, and at his even filthier hair with the other meaty hand. The next ninety seconds consists of him saying the name "Harry" over and over, louder and louder, until it's seventeen syllables long.

What the hell spell'd ol' Moll conjure to turn Bellatrix into Grape Nuts? My pal Pat suggests "Avada Asplodabitch," which may also be the name of a Russian tennis player.

Director-David Yates
Writer-Steve Kloves

Begins with the (proper) burial of Dobby, a scene that Alexandre Desplat's soundtrack lends unearned moroseness.

We see a bit more of Domhnall Gleeson and Clemence Poesy as Bill and Fleur(marrying a Weasley has altered Fleur's accent, from super-French to sorta-English. Rather IBS to diarrhea, no?). Lovely house, you two.

This is where the action lives, and Yates more or less gets it right. Honestly I'd prefer to commend the special effects team.

Two kisses in this one: a peck between the hero and his girl (Harry/Ginny kisses are death: stiff, cold and devastating to witness.) and a smooch between the other hero and his girl. I bet Kloves had to avert his eyes in the theater.

The acting is even better. Radcliffe always looked a good Harry (except in Goblet of Fire, where practically no one looked a good anything except good and terrible), but his acting rarely dipped below or rose above "functional." Here he's actually outstanding, with the script failing him instead of the other way around.

Rupert Grint gets to show off those reliable comedic chops in Part Two (his reaction to the Fiendfyre is by far the funniest thing in either part, in fact). I haven't mentioned Matthew Lewis as Neville, and that's on me. His growth from forgetful butterball to fairly hunky Horcrux killer is something to celebrate.

Helena Bonham Carter acting like Emma Watson acting like Helena Bonham Carter pretending to be Hermione. Almost makes me forgive the dancing. And even the arm-licking.

Alan Rickman is still taking his sweet time speaking words that drip with malevolence. Maggie Smith is still effortlessly dignified, still endless captivating.

Robbie Coltrane is still very large and hirsute.

The last Harry Potter movie clocked in at a mere 130 minutes, making it the shortest of the eight films. With a worldwide gross of $1.3 billion, also the most successful. Well-deserved. The story's great, the acting's tops, and visually nothing else in the series is as breathtaking (CGI dragon!). Tremendous way to wrap it up.

The Battle at Hogwarts looks amazing. Nothing could top reading it for the first time. The emotions were not only higher, they morphed. It was an event in the book, rather than an accomplishment.

When Harry goes to face Voldemort in the forest, he just goes. He doesn't go to see Ron and Hermione, or anyone, okay? Kloves, I swear to God…I was ready to punt a child in that fucking movie theater.

Fiendfyre is so relentlessly bro. Uncontrollable flame that can transform into animal shapes and is resistant to water is incredible dark magic that a complete imbecile like Goyle shouldn't be able to cast. And yet.

The book doesn't include the Dark Lord, the most feared evil wizard of ever apparently, the insane fascist prick who split his soul into pieces, doing the hokey-pokey or giving out Aspie hugs. That's like auto-victory, right there.

You could have tried harder, movie. Only 130 minutes, you could have put aside a few extra for the death and mourning of a fucking Weasley. No shot of Arthur comforting Molly, probably the only thing keeping him from falling apart beside her. No Percy going apeshit on Death Eaters. We don't even see the reunion with Percy! The only truly affecting moment is Ron's reaction to seeing his brother's corpse. I don't know where Grint went in his mind for that and I'm not sure I want to know.

Ron, man. On the printed page, he defies a Silencing Spell just to remind Voldemort what a no-nose-havin' piece of crap he continues to be. Loyal as fifty beagles, brave as twenty German Shepherds.

Plus he gets the girl! Double bonus, the best girl! Hermione Granger is the smartest, cleverest, most resourceful, kick-face girl around. Ron Weasley--who has in the past several years confronted a loo troll, faced down ginormous spiders, wondered as to the extent of Sirius Black's frogginess whilst hobbled, and jumped into a frigid body of water to save his mad best friend from being murdered by a deranged piece of jewelry--remembers the house elves, those steadfast servants of a school under siege, and it is that act of selflessness which earns him a hearty song from the bushy-haired brainiac of his no doubt fragmented and messy dreams. So Hermione's amateur activism ended up good for something after all!

Their kiss in the film looks great. But it doesn't feel as satisfying.

Snape's last words are changed from "Look…at…me" to "Look at me. You have your mother's eyes." Right, except blue.

Christ, "The Prince's Tale." The story of a man who swears to protect the son of the woman he loved at the expense of any other joy in life...while also swearing to serve the freak who murdered that woman. Alan Rickman is riveting. No, Snape isn't there at Godric's Hollow on the night the Potters died, but I'm glad they added that scene, just because it gave us more Alan Rickman. The only Potter performance that deserved Oscar attention was his in the second Deathly Hallows.

Dumbledore telling Harry about that extra blood protection is pretty crucial. So definitely don't include that.

Ah, the epilogue. Marrying your high school sweetheart and popping out lazily-named brats isn't for everyone. I never disliked it; actually rather liked it more when I saw the more vehemently negative reactions.

The fairly popular belief that Neville should have been the one to knock off Bellatrix Lestrange, as revenge for turning his parents into human husks is an agreeable one on its face, but unrealistic beneath the skin. Molly had only just recently pulled herself off the corpse of her son and her only daughter nearly died right in front of her eyes.

Hell, Neville had more of a right to take out Voldemort himself, considering that it was almost him who became known as the Boy Who Lived.

Going back to Sybill Trelawney's prophecy, there were indeed two male children born in late July 1980 whose parents told Voldy take a flying fuck at rolling donut on three separate occasions: Harry Potter and…Neville Longbottom. Voldemort pursued the half-blood babe, and sealed his own fate.

What could have been, y'all. "Neville Longbottom and the Chamber of Secrets." "Neville Longbottom and the Half-Blood Prince. The gay porn industry would be as big as Snapchat right now.

Voldemort fears death and seeks to master it; Harry accepts it, has the means to master it, but then discards them. Well, except the cloak, which IS the best of the Hallows, y'know. Sacrifice is noble, and death is inevitable: "I am ready to die."

...there's still a couple things I need to address.

                                             RON AND HERMIONE, A LOVE STORY

Authors are under no obligation to make their pot a melting one. To thine own self must they be unflinchingly true. What might seem a "limited" worldview is really a necessity of form and function. Fiction yearns for restrictions, and the author should trust themselves to set them, just as the reader should respect them. Both of them need to, at a certain point, close the book.

J.K. Rowling is not just a regular author, however; she's one of the few who's made a fortune on their way to changing the world. So when she comes out, years later, and says Dumbledore was gay, it felt like pandering. As a queer human being, I never feel that a storyteller is compelled to represent my sexuality in their universe.

Then she came out and said that putting Ron and Hermione together was a mistake.

Creator regrets are inevitable. Public statements on them are ill-advised, but not impermissible. Rowling's revelation started a firestorm with the fandom, as certain fans felt vindicated for disbelieving the canon, while others felt betrayed. It also raised a myriad of questions: Is an interview canon? (Nope) Is there a certain point where a writer just needs to let their story be, and damn the maybes? (Yep) Does this woman not own a fucking journal? (Dunno)

Did the ensuing uproar cause Rowling to backpedal? Fucking hell. The woman moonwalked like no white person before or since. Ron and Hermione will be fine, she assured fans, "with a bit of counseling."

I personally didn't get upset; after all, if it's not in one of the books, canon it ain't. What Rowling says in an interview doesn't mean a damn thing. Your opinion is every bit as valid.

I rooted for Ron and Hermione since day one. They're a perfect give and take. I have seen people claim their personalities and intellects are too disparate to allow for a healthy relationship. I have also seen people call it an abusive relationship, implying that fans who support their union are defending domestic violence. Those people are hopelessly lost in their worldview.*

Ron's not a jerk, he's just plagued with self-doubt. His issues stem from ceaseless comparisons to his best friend--one of the most legendary wizards ever to live. The kid fails to realize, anyone bar Merlin himself would come up lacking against Harry flippin' Potter.

Ask yourself: would Hermione Granger put up with an abusive partner? End of.

Not to mention, Harry and Hermione would be a stodgy-ass couple. Among other offenses, their sexual encounters would be quite low-volume.

(For the record, I ship the following: Harry with intensive psychotherapy, Ron with a bacon butty, and Hermione with a bookshelf 100 feet long.)

                                         SEVERUS SNAPE, HERO OR VILLAIN?
Or, flawed human?

Alan Rickman once said: "I don't play villains, I play very interesting people." (Great quote, if not entirely accurate. As someone who grew up in the USA during the 1980s, trust me, the man at least once played a villain.) Severus Snape, gifted wizard with the charm of a snail trail, certainly qualifies as interesting. It's not often one gets the opportunity to be a triple agent.

Rickman's masterful performance (including that panty-dropper voice) influenced numerous fans to forgive the character of Snape a multitude of sins, make excuses for his vindictive nature, and ship him with Harry's mother (while subsequently vilifying Harry's father for being a schoolyard bully). Snape was a brave man. By any measure worth a damn. But this so-called everlasting love for a woman who considered him only a friend (at least, until he called her a "Mudblood") was really a debilitating obsession.

Snape regarded Harry as a miniature of the man who made Severus's school days hell, and he asked Voldemort to spare her life. (Which he tried to, in fact.) Snape did not care if James or baby Harry died. He did not consider Lily's devastation at the loss of her family. So don't try to convince me Severus Snape was some sort of great tormented romantic hero. He was, at best, a conflicted schmuck who did the right thing for arguably the wrong reason.

*She typed after a minute of deep breaths and rapid blinks.