Monday, March 31, 2008

Let's Go Mets!

As will appear in Tuesday's issue of the New School Free Press.

There are two things on the mind of every New York Mets fan: the September collapse and Johan Santana. The first was the Mets not making the playoffs after blowing a seven game lead with only 17 games left (which had never happened before), while the second is a season with baseball's best pitcher.

Santana is being used by the team to showcase a new beginning and to forget the way last season ended—and I think it'll help. There's nothing like an amazing starting pitcher, one that has won two Cy Young awards and has an amazing lifetime record of 94-44 with a 3.22 ERA, to forget about a disheartening season. It also helps that he's only 29, and should provide much-needed relief to last year's overworked bullpen.

And if you're a New School student who doesn't understand what I'm talking about—and, frankly, that's most of the student body—that's your loss. You're missing out on something that's at the heart of New York: baseball. And while the Yankees aren’t worth supporting because they represent a fake sense of classiness (among other reasons to hate them), the New York Mets represent something new and exciting—not to mention talented.

That talent begins with David Wright and Jose Reyes, whom I'd take over the Yankees' third base/shortstop combo of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. The Mets' duo is younger, amazingly talented (Wright hit .325 last year, while Reyes stole 78 bases, leading the league) and don't have their own fans disliking them, like Yankee lovers with A-Rod.

The rest of the Mets' team is extremely solid with players like CF Carlos Beltran (33 HR, 23 SB), 1B Carlos Delgado (24 HR) and 2B Luis Castillo (.301) leading the offensive charge, and great pitching from Pedro Martinez (3-1, 2.57 ERA in an injury shortened season), John Maine (15-10, 3.91) and Billy Wagner (34 saves, 2.63).

But that’s enough statistics. The Mets are just more fun to watch than the Yankees. They’re faster, more enthusiastic, can play both small ball and hit a slew of home runs, don’t play in the Bronx and, simply put, the Mets are a better team who will go further than the (damn) Yankees.

I predict the Mets to win the NL East and, if a few key players (that's you Delgado and Alou) stay healthy, they'll make the World Series. While I don't know what will happen when they face either the Detroit Tigers or Boston Red Sox (I think one of them will make it) in the Series, I do know that the Mets will make it further than the Yankees will.

Having the upper hand of the two New York baseball teams hasn’t always been the Mets' position, but this season, there’ll be a lot more blue and orange than those boring Yankee pinstripes around the city.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Five Best..."Electronic" Bands

#5. Camera Obscura

#4. TV on the Radio

#3. Arcade Fire

#2. Radiohead

#1. Television

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Stuck Inside of New York with the Memphis Blues Again, Part III

Along Beale Street, there's a Memphis Walk of Fame, and here are some of the highlights:

Otis Redding.

Robert Johnson.

Jerry Lee Lewis

Justin Timberlake (sorry, had to)

Memphis Slim.

Elvis Presley.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Stuck Inside of New York with the Memphis Blues Again, Part II

On the first really nice day of weather of our trip, Nadia and I went to the Memphis Zoo, which was actually one of the better zoos I've been to. The big attraction was two pandas, Ya-Ya and Lee-Lee, but there were also the more standard zoo lineup: lions, monkeys and, of course, this guy.

For lunch one day, we went to Payne's BBQ, a restaurant that was converted from an old car garage. They serve primarily pork sandwiches, which were delicious. I heard about this place from a great guide called Kreature Komforts, and found that Sonic Youth liked Payne's so much, the band gave the restaurant a thanks in their linear notes for one of their albums.

The famous Beale Street.

Right off of Beale Street, there's this statue of Elvis Presley. I couldn't bring myself to posing with it (sorry, Jesse Katsopolis), but I did take a picture of it.

They sure like their Elvis 'round there.

At the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, they have a weird tradition involving ducks. At 11 a.m., a gaggle of five ducks come down from the roof led by a Duck Master, and stay in the hotel's indoor fountain until 5 p.m., in which they're led back up again by the aforementioned Master. You can read about it here.

A view of Memphis from atop the Peabody Hotel.

Nadia walking along the Mississippi River.

While driving back home, we went past Dinosaur World somewhere in Kentucky. Well, truth be told, we didn't altogether go past it, because we had to stop and take a picture of it.

Tomorrow, the last batch of pictures.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Stuck Inside of New York with the Memphis Blues Again

Here are some pictures from Memphis, TN, which I liked more than Nashville and although I pretty much saw everything I wanted to see (minus the insanely priced Graceland tour), I wouldn't mind going back again at some point.

The Graceland sign. Again, Nadia and I didn't actually go into Graceland because the cost of the tour was ridiculous, and besides, I'm more interested in early Elvis material rather than bloated, oversized Elvis.

We did go into the Stax Museum though, and one of the first pictures I saw was of Sam Cooke, one of my favorites. In the same room as Sam was Louis Jordan, another seminal figure in rock, blues and jazz.

A sign for "Wicked" Pickett at the Museum.

The most memorable thing at the Museum was a set of telegraphs from grievers that Otis Redding's wife got when his plane crashed and he passed away. There was a whole room dedicated to Otis because, at least in my opinion, he's the most influential (and greatest) artist Stax ever had.

Nadia taking a picture outside of the Stax Museum.

The Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. The building is now home to the Civil Rights Museum but part of the motel is kept in tact, and towards the left of this picture, on the upper level, was where MLK was shot. It was especially haunting going here because it'll have happened 40 years ago on April 4.

More from Memphis tomorrow.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Nashville Skyline

I'm back...

For the past week, my girlfriend, Nadia, and I were on a road trip to Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee. We had a great time, and below are some of my favorite pictures from Nashville, with pictures of Memphis tomorrow.

For some reason, Nashville has the world's only replica of the Parthenon. It's in the middle of the city's Centennial Park, and while I'm sure the actual Parthenon is much more breathtaking than the one in Nashville, it was still interesting to see (and had a surprising lack of graffiti on it).

Surrounded by a mall and theme restaurants was the Grand Ole Opry. While Nadia and I didn't actually go into the Opry, we were outside of it, and were also outside of the Ryman where the Opry used to be. When walking past the Ryman, I marveled about how Hank Williams and Elvis performed there. That's one of the best feelings I had during our trip.

See the title of this post.

While leaving Nashville, I noticed this broken mural of Johnny Cash. I have no idea why was on the side of this building and who originally painted it, but it was a nice farewell from Nashville.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Away, Away

I'll be away until next Sunday because I'll be on a road trip with my girlfriend to North Carolina, Nashville and Memphis. I leave with this:

I went hungry in New York and Chicago was no better
But today, my dear mother wrote and told me in her letter
Son, come back to Memphis and live here with your Mama
You can walk down Beale Street, honey, wearing your pajamas
You know home folks here, we let do just what you want to
And I born you and raised you right here on the corner

Have a good week.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Instamatic Karma

As appeared in Tuesday's issue of the New School Free Press

Only one out of every 500 books on the Beatles is going to be worthwhile to read—especially because, according to Amazon, there are over 20,000. In May Pang's Instamatic Karma: Photographs of John Lennon, she manages to find a side of John Lennon that most don't see or think about.

Personal assistant-turned lover for 18 months beginning in 1973, Pang got to see Lennon as both boyfriend and boss, something that shows in her pictures. They're personal yet slightly removed as if she knew she was only there until Yoko's inevitable return (Lennon and Ono broke up earlier that year) and was just happy to be filling the role of stand-in.

Pang's black and white photographs aren't great but certain ones stand out, such as a picture of Lennon floating in the water, looking ghastly white with his eyes closed, or another where he's goofing around and playing the drums.

If you're a die-hard Beatles fan, it's worthwhile to skim through Instamatic Karma; otherwise, probably not.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Nerd Rock

Being a nerd and liking music doesn't necessarily mean you have to switch between Houses of the Holy and "The Imperial March" from Star Wars while sitting in a basement eating Funyuns. In fact, being a nerd is at the heart of rock 'n' roll.

It all begins with Buddy Holly. The look, the moves, the glasses, everything associated with Nerd Rock is all thanks to Buddy Holly. It's impossible to think of Holly and not picture the big, large-framed glasses he wore. As with punk, how you look in Nerd Rock has as much to do with the genre as the sound.

Nerd Rock (also known as Geek Rock) is exemplified by a few traits: the aforementioned style; awkward lead singers; a heavy emphasis on synthesizers and keyboards (it also doesn't hurt to feature the keytar); harmonic vocals; and off-beat, quirky lyrics. The Talking Heads are the epitome of nerd rock, for David Byrne speaks in fragmented phrases and the band's sound is based around electronic music mixed with guitars, bass and drums.

That sound is most closely associated with New Wave, a late-70s/early-80s genre that could also easily be categorized under the heading of Nerd Rock. Bands like XTC and Devo don't necessarily sound very nerdy, but they have the Buddy Holly factor where the singer looks like (and probably is) a nerd.

Nerd Rock caught on again in the 1990s with Weezer, the band most associated with the genre. While maybe not the greatest band in the world (although everyone in high school goes through their “*Pinkerton* is the Best Album of All-Time” phase), lead singer Rivers Cuomo looks like a nerd, and they're just a nerdy band all-around—after all, they've got a lyric that goes, “I’ve got a Dungeon Master’s Guide/I’ve got a 12-sided die/I’ve got Kitty Pryde/And Nightcrawler too.”

The nerdy, quirky lyrics are what make bands like They Might Be Giants (who like to rock out with an accordion) and Barenaked Ladies both popular and respected amongst nerds, freaks, geeks and dweebs everywhere. Take the BNL song "Grade Nine," which goes, "I got into the classroom and my knowledge was gone/I guess I should've studied instead of watching *Wrath of Khan*."

Nerd Alert!

If you're a nerd, it doesn't mean you're bound to be obsessing over Star Trek or working at an arcade. Thanks to Buddy Holly and Weezer, you might just be able to pick up a guitar and start a band. Don't forget the glasses, though.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Nerd Power

Over the weekend, I didn’t do the greatest job of updating Five Best because I was working on a special section to the student newspaper I work on, the New School Free Press. During class, while watching a movie called The Paper (I don’t recommend it), my friend Joe and I started scribbling down ideas for an insert to the paper. Ever other issue or so, two or three pages are dedicated to one topic; in the past, we’ve had the Activism Issue, the Outdoors Issue and, more recently, the Sex Issue.

On the list we were writing down ideas, I wrote The Simpsons Issue, due to our shared love of The Simpsons, and Joe revised that to The Nerd Issue. Perfect!

Over the past two weeks, Joe and I assigned stories, edited them, helped with design of our pages, and we’re quite proud of the results. There were stories about the New York Times Crossword Puzzle Tournament being in Brooklyn; a student (nerdy) group at The New School called A.D.V.E.N.T.U.R.E Force; a how-to guide about protecting yourself; a story about how to talk baseball without actually knowing anything about baseball; a profile of a professor at The New School, Ed Halter, who writes about video games, war, gaming and film criticism; and I wrote a brief profile on Nerd Rock.

Here’s the editorial Joe and I wrote:

According to the Princeton Review, Eugene Lang College is the school with the most dodgeball targets. This was mostly due to our school's lack of intramural sports and fraternities, but it made a few NSFP reporters wonder: are we all just a bunch of nerds?

While pondering this, a small amount of pride boiled effervescently within us. We wondered if there was anything wrong with being identified as nerds. We realized, after considering a certain Huey Lewis song about geometry, that the title is much broader than one might think. It doesn't matter if you're male or female, gay or straight, black or white, Klingon or Vulcan: everyone is implicated.

Looking beyond clichés—the large glasses, pocket protectors and socially awkward mannerisms—nerds take many forms. It could be that you argue the merits of post-modernism in a discussion class; you have a quote from Nietzsche pasted lovingly above your computer; was once president of the chess club in middle school; lost a retainer during elementary school lunch; spent hours organizing an iTunes collection; religiously followed a sports season; turned on an Xbox 360 rather than play outside; pre-ordered the seventh book of Harry Potter; and argued that the use of the semicolon within this paragraph is incorrect. The ways in which one can be a nerd are numerous and exhausting.

Rather than hide these guilty pleasures, it is of our opinion that we should embrace them. You, sir or madam, are a nerd.

Tomorrow, I’ll post my Nerd Rock column. Nerd on!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Five Best...Songs from Stop Making Sense

#5. "Take Me to the River"

I don't know why I love you like I do
All the troubles you put me through
Sixteen candles there on my wall
And here am I the biggest fool of them all

#4. "Burning Down the House"

Hold tight, wait 'til the party's over
Hold tight, we're in for nasty weather
There has got to be a way
Burning down the house

#3. "Girlfriend is Better"

I got a girlfriend that's better than that
And nothing is better that this
Is it?

#2. "Life During Wartime"

Why stay in college? Why go to night school?
Gonna be different this time?
Can't write a letter, can't send a postcard
I can't write nothing at all
This ain't no party, this ain't no disco,
This ain't no fooling around
I'd love you hold you, I'd like to kiss you
I ain't got no time for that now

#1. "Psycho Killer"

I can’t seem to face up to the facts
I’m tense and nervous and I can’t relax
I can’t sleep because my bed’s on fire
Don’t touch me, I’m a real live wire.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Five Best...Songs from New Morning

#5. "The Man in Me"

The man in me will do nearly any task,
And as for compensation, there's little he would ask.
Take a woman like you
To get through to the man in me.

#4. "If Not for You"

If not for you
My sky would fall,
Rain would gather too.
Without your love I'd be nowhere at all,
I'd be lost if not for you,
And you know it's true.

#3. "Went to See the Gypsy"

I went back to see the gypsy,
It was nearly early dawn.
The gypsy's door was open wide
But the gypsy was gone,
And that pretty dancing girl,
She could not be found.
So I watched that sun come rising
From that little Minnesota town.

#2. "New Morning"

Can't you hear that motor turnin'?
Automobile comin' into style
Comin' down the road for a country mile or two
So happy just to see you smile
Underneath the sky of blue
On this new morning, new morning
On this new morning with you.

#1. "Sign on the Window"

Build me a cabin in Utah,
Marry me a wife, catch rainbow trout,
Have a bunch of kids who call me "Pa,"
That must be what it's all about,
That must be what it's all about.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Five Best...Songs from Moulin Rouge's "Elephant Love Medley"

Although not a great movie, Moulin Rouge goes have some great parts, like Ewan McGregor, the direction of Baz Luhrmann, and much of the music, especially "Elephant Love Medley," sung by Ewan and Nicole Kidman. Moulin has become famous for its use of contemporary songs, but having those songs re-imagined and none appearing in their original form, as seen in this clip here (I apologize for it being a homemade video, but the actual footage doesn't exist online, only the audio).

Below are the best songs used in the "Medley," judged not by how good they actually are, but how they're used in this particular song:

#5. "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing" by the Four Aces

#4. "Pride (In the Name of Love)" by U2

#3. "Up Where We Belong" by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes

#2. "Your Song" by Elton John

#1. "Heroes" by David Bowie

(And yes, it is pretty much the guiltiest of pleasures for me)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Five Best...Songs from David Bowie

#5. "Love You Till Tuesday"

Oh, beautiful baby
I was very lonely till I met you on Sunday
My passion's never-ending and I'll love you till Tuesday

#4. "Uncle Arthur"

Round and round goes Arthur's head, hasn't eaten well for days
Little Sally may be lovely, but cooking leaves her in a maze
Uncle Arthur packed his bags and fled
Back to mother, all's forgiven, serving in the family shop
He gets his pocket money, he's well fed

#3. "There Is a Happy Land"

Charlie Brown's got half a crown, he's gonna buy a kite
Jimmy's ill with chicken pox, and Tommy's learned to ride his bike
Tiny Tim sings prayers and hymns, he's so small we don't notice him
He gets in the way but we always let him play with us

#2. "Sell Me a Coat"

And when she smiles, the ice forgets to melt away
Not like before, her smile was warming yesterday
See the trees like silver candy, feel my icy hand

#1. "When I Live My Dream"

Tell them I will live my dream
Tell them they can laugh at me
But don't forget your date with me
When I live my dream

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Ultimate Sixty Minute Neil Young Playlist

1. “Out on the Weekend” from Harvest

A great start to any mix, let alone one solely dedicated to Neil. “Weekend” showcases Neil’s exquisite voice and harmonica playing.

2. “Powderfinger” from Rust Never Sleeps

Playing with his band Crazy Horse, this is the greatest song Neil ever recorded, and one that makes me want to be twenty-two so I can say, “And I just turned twenty-two/I was wonderin’ what to do.” Also provides some blistering guitar solos.

3. “Heart of Gold” from Harvest

It’s nice to have a familiar song on a mix tape, and everyone knows “Heart of Gold,” Neil’s only real hit. It’s also a nice comedown from the epic “Powderfinger,” for it’s more about the melody than the music.

4. “Walk On” from On the Beach

No one ever talks about this track—or about the whole great album, for that matter. It’s short, breezy and insanely catchy (“Some get stoned, some get strange/But sooner or later, it all gets real”).

5. “Helpless” from Déjà Vu

The only song on the mix to not appear on a solo album, but instead appeared on one by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young—but it might as well just have been solo because Neil is clearly more talented than the other three.

6. “Change Your Mind” from Sleeps with Angels

A dark and depressing song that fits in well after “Helpless,” “Change Your Mind” contains multiple lengthy guitar solos that showcase how Neil can shred with the best of them.

7. “Field of Opportunity” from Comes a Time

It’s occasionally rough when rock stars want to sound “country,” but Neil (along with the song’s use of the fiddle and steel guitar) manages to pull it off.

8. “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” from After the Gold Rush

A very emotional song off of one of the most emotional records of all-time—a great song for a mix tape. The chorus: “Don’t let it bring you down/It’s only castles burning/Just find someone who’s turning/And you will come around.”

9. “Cortez the Killer” from Zuma

Another epic tale, with this one about Hernán Cortés conquering Mexico in the 1500s. More importantly, the song begins with Neil’s guitar leading the charge…for the first three and a half minutes, which is when the first word is sung.

10. “From Hank to Hendrix” from Harvest Moon

Neil can write about the uneasiness of love with the best of them, and this song is a great example of this: “Sometimes it’s distorted/Not clear to you/Sometimes the beauty of love/Just comes ringin’ through.”

11. “Down by the River” from Everybody Knows This is Nowhere

A song lasting over nine minutes with hardly any lyrics can seem like an eternity—or, if you’re Neil Young and Crazy Horse, you’ll make a perfect rock song.

On another note, today is a very important date in history, for it's the 53rd anniversary of Elvis' first television performance and, more importantly, the 75th anniversary of the New York premiere of King Kong. That, of course, means I have to post this picture:

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Armed Elvis

Some of the best music listening I do is when I’m waiting for the train.

After going to the Brooklyn Rail to help my girlfriend Nadia (and by help, I mean being on the computer the whole time), we left around 11:30 p.m., and I proceeded to get dropped off at a L Train Station in Brooklyn, while Nadia got a chauffeured car ride back to her house in Queens.

As it was late, I knew it was going to be awhile until the L got there, so I settled in, leaned against a railing and proceeded to pump up the Elvis Costello—specifically Armed Forces, an album I hadn’t listened to in full in some time.

Why that is I have no because it’s an excellent album, right up there with Costello’s other great albums, This Year’s Model, My Aim is True and Get Happy!! (When you think about it, Costello’s first four albums might be the greatest first-four in the history of music. I mean, who else has a better start? Dylan? No. Beatles? No. The closest I can think of is Springsteen with Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., The Wild, the Innocent & the E-Street Shuffle, Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town).

I didn’t listen to all of Armed because I had listened to “Accidents Will Happen” and “Oliver’s Army” a few days before, so I went straight to “Party Girl,” which is followed “Goon Squad,” “Busy Bodies,” “Sunday’s Best” and then I went straight to “Chemisty Class and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”

None of those songs sounds very tough to play (on the subway, I was drumming with my index and middle fingers to the drum beats of the songs, and actually doing a pretty good job), but Costello’s voice just sounds so fantastic and the songs are really catchy.

But although catchy, the album is really dark, as shown in some of these verses:

You've got a chemistry class, I want a piece of your mind
You don't know what you started when you mixed it up with mine
Are you ready for the final solution?

There was a checkpoint Charlie
He didn't crack a smile
But it's no laughing party
When you've been on the murder mile
Only takes one itchy trigger
One more widow, one less white nigger

I was stuck on a hammerhead
I came alive and left for dead
As my face returned to red
Choking on my pride and pity
Don't look now under the bed
An arm, a leg and a severed head
Read about the private lives
The songs of praise, the readers' wives
Listen to the decent people
Though you treat them just like sheep
Put them all in boots and khaki
Blame it all upon the darkies

But also very funny:

Never said I was a stool pigeon
I never said I was a diplomat
Everybody is under suspicion
But you don't wanna hear about that

And some are just haunting:

Better send a begging letter to the big investigation
Who put these fingerprints on my imagination?

I never give enough credit to Costello, who has released other good albums outside of the four aforementioned ones (King of America and Imperial Bedroom come to mind), but he does deserve loads of credit, if only just for making something as perfect as Armed Forces.

And keeping me company while waiting for the L Train.