Thursday, July 31, 2008

Go On, Fulfill Your Sick Pleasures: A Tribute To South Park's Mr. Garrison

I still think South Park is a funny show. Yes, it has changed drastically over the years, becoming more overtly political and at times heavy-handed in its delivery of a "message" (quite a few of which I don't necessarily agree with), but for my money South Park remains unpredictable and funny every time I watch it. Even in its twelfth season, it's still exciting for me to watch, with recent shows like the three-part "Imaginationland" and "Super Fun Time" being excellent examples of South Park's vitality. It's still the only show I loved in my youth that's still producing quality, and in the aftermath of The Simpsons's sad decline, that's gotta count for something.

But of course I miss the old days. South Park's first few seasons were wonderfully crude adventures, filled with bratty kids and bitter adults, not to mention constant references to B-list celebrities like Eric Roberts and Fred Savage. It's weird to think that such a lousily-animated, cutesy show stirred up such a nasty controversy back in '97, especially in the wake of all that Scientology riffraff, but those first seasons do maintain a crude, foul-mouthed charm. It was a time where people still considered South Park a flash-in-the-pan thing (before Bigger Longer and Uncut became a huge critical hit) and as such Parker and Stone were willing to make their show as nasty and weird as possible. And no other character exemplified this like schoolteacher Mr. Garrison.

"Kids, you have to understand. There is a huge difference between gay people and Mr. Garrison." -Randy Marsh

During those early days, Mr. Garrison was - quite franky - an awful teacher, and an awful person. Teaching-wise, his lesson plans consisted of constantly watching re-runs of Barnaby Jones, discussing why Chubby Checker left the Beatles in 1972, and figuring out how to discern a policeman from a prostitute. He saw no problem in calling his students retards, making crude sexual jokes in front of them, or even threatening them outright with violence; as such, everybody at the school hated him. Personality-wise, he was a sexual deviant with a bizarre Southern drawl who would channel any and all homosexual urges into his hand puppet Mr. Hat, which he barely ever took off. If ever accused of being gay, he would ramble on about his love for "poontang" and "screwing hot chicks" - not to mention his outright hatred of homosexuals. Despite this, he would get caught with soliciting sex from children or having sex with various animals several times during the show. All in all, he was a fucked-up mess of a human being, and as such he was probably the best character ever. While most people point to the potty-mouthed Eric Cartman as the source of South Park's early success, Mr. Garrison was just as important, representing the absolute bottom rung of the show's ladder of deviancy.

But like everything else, Mr. Garrison has changed over the years. Once Garrison finally admitted to being gay in season 4, everything changed - he ditched Mr. Hat for the bondage-gear manwhore Mr. Slave, became the kids' fourth grade teacher again, and most drastically became a woman (although he did recently change back). The fact that these bizarre, deplorable actions have actually tamed his character since the early days is a pretty clear indication of how awful he used to be. While it's nice to see that Mr. Garrison's still around, I doubt he will be able to reclaim that special kind of evil that made him such a staple in South Park's early seasons.

But hey, we've still got the old episodes, right? Here I'd like to list off some of my favorite Mr. Garrison South Park episodes from the first few seasons. For the sake of this list I will only pick episodes before Mr. Garrison's coming out, as I feel that was a big turning point in his personality. And hey, since you can watch all of these episodes for free at, I'll link to each one! Ain't that a stinker!!

So here are my favorite Mr. Garrison episodes. Enjoy.

102 - Weight Gain 4000

It's obvious that Matt and Trey had a special love for Mr. Garrison from the beginning - he's probably the first character on South Park to have an extensive flashback / backstory, as early as the show's second episode. Of course, it's also telling that said backstory leads to him attempting to kill Kathy Lee Gifford from a book depository with a rifle, a la Lee Harvey Oswald. It's also a good showcase for Mr. Hat's personality - mean, dominating, and pretty much forcing Garrison to indulge in his worst tendencies.

104 - Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boatride

Notable for introducing Mr. Garrison's views on homosexuality - namely, that homosexuals are evil inhuman monsters. When his own fey personality is challenged by Chef, Garrison typically replies: "I only act like this to get chicks, dumbass."

111 - Tom's Rhinoplasty

Mr. Garrison gets a nose job that somehow transforms his face into David Hasslehoff's; as such he immediately quits teaching to become a model (??) and, as he tells his own students, to pursue his dream of "hanging around and screwing hot chicks." Of course, Garrison gets sick of being harassed by women constantly (we all know why) and gives it up. While Garrison's flagrant disregard for his students is on full display here, some of the funniest moments occur when the class is asked about their opinion of Garrison. When instructed to treat their substitute with the same amount of respect they had for Mr. Garrison, Stan responds: "We don't have any respect for Mr. Garrison." There you go.

208 - Summer Sucks

Mr. Hat leaves Mr. Garrison, so Garrison sees Dr. Katz (yes, that Dr. Katz) for therapeutic advice. Katz, of course, tells Garrison that he is a gay man channeling his homosexual urges through his hand puppet. And of course, Katz is killed by a giant ash snake (just watch the episode) prompting Garrison to say "Serves you right, you gay bashing homo!" A mess of contradictions.

Oh, and this one also introduces Mr. Hat's shoddy stand-in, Mr. Twig. Man I miss season 2.

214 - Chef Aid

Mr. Twig is sabotaged, and Mr. Garrison goes insane. As such, he is carted off to jail (??) where he is inexplicably saved by Mr. Hat driving a truck somehow. Mr. Twig, with his faux-French accent, encourages Garrison to be with Mr. Hat. "Do you love him?" he asks. "Then go to him." An unforgettable moment of Garrisonness.

217 - Gnomes

Mr. Garrison is on the verge of being fired because he is a terrible teacher, so he is forced to have his kids present projects on "current events" to the school board. Kyle, Stan, Cartman, Kenny, and Tweak present a fantastic project, obviously written by Tweak's dad - the board loves it, but Garrison knows they faked it. For the rest of the episode, we see Garrison at his absolutely most violent - he constantly threatens the kids to never reveal who really wrote the paper, claiming that if they do come forward, "Mr. Hat is gonna smack you bitches up."

317 - World Wide Recorder Concert

Quite possibly my favorite Garrison-centric episode. When said recorder concert is scheduled to take place in Garrison's home town of Little Rock, Garrison is afraid to go due to his parents living there, claiming to Mr. Mackey that his father sexually assaulted him. The reality - of course! - is that Garrison's father didn't molest him, and Garrison wants him to. So he spends the rest of the episode trying to get his own father to rape him. It's one of the most bizarre displays of Garrison's weird sexual nature, but probably the best - good enough that I'm pretty sure other shows have ripped off this premise since.

Oh, and this episode also has a great "Mr. Hat is not just a hand puppet" moment in which Mr. Mackey and Mr. Hat actually get into a fistfight on the school bus. And Mr. Hat wins. Wow.

407 - Cherokee Hair Tampons

After awkwardly trying to solicit sex from Eric Cartman in the previous classic "Cartman Joins NAMBLA," Mr. Garrison is - finally - fired. On Mr. Mackey's advice, he finally decides to pursue his dream of writing the Great American Romance Novel, hoping to prove to the world his love of poontang. Of course, he uses most of the novel's sex scenes - including the lesbian scenes - to describe the glory of penises in great detail. When his publisher confronts him about the constant usage of the word "penis," Garrison typically claims that he just wants to give "chicks" what they want. There's also a scene in which Mr. Hat jerks off Mr. Garrison, which will always stand as one of the most bizarre moments in their "relationship." This episode has to be one of the most sexually frustrating for Garrison, and it's probably the last episode to revel in the glory of his confusion - shortly after this, he'd finally fess up.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! S3E01: An Adventure in Pictures

If you are like me, you have seen the season premiere of Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! by now. If you are even more like me, you have watched it several times over and found wonderful little details you didn't catch the first time through. If this is the case, you may not need to read this post.

But what about those eager Tim and Eric hardcore motherfuckers who prefer to wait for the show's real premiere, 12:15 tonight on Adult Swim? Well, I am not one of those people, obviously, and I do not understand them. For one, when I know there is a Tim and Eric episode floating around that I have not seen, accessible with the click of a button, I must see it. Secondly, I have a lot of trouble watching Tim and Eric on television because it is hard for me to believe they inhabit the same space as any other televised network program (other AS shows included). In its own corner of the internet, Tim and Eric feels right at home. On TV, it is genuinely frightening.

So if you want to see the new Tim and Eric but are depriving yourself of it, fuck you you abnormal go watch it like any normal human being would. Either way, I have chronicled a handy spoiler-free pre-viewing guide that I hope you will enjoy.

Here are some things to watch for.

1. The Indian Man

You will not even get past the opening titles before seeing this man.

He makes a variety of faces.

He also touches himself...

...before making one more face.

2. Penis Advice

In this episode, Pep-Pep smells his grandson's penis.

Keep a lookout for some helpful textual advice.

You may also learn about some new body parts.

Oh, and there's some face changing.

3. Money Talk

A lesson in business economics.

That's a lot of hundos.

4. Griddleman

Check out the new trademark "BM."

5. Steve Brule

Steve Brule's back. Pickin' his nose.

Uh oh! Panini's too hot!

Nah, he's okay.

6. Women's Entertainment

I wonder what women like to watch?


7. Advertising

Check out Eric's stylin' new grillz.

Check out Tim's passion.

The perfect ad.

8. Taut Drama

Eric overworks Tim. Tim becomes a thin-limbed corpse.

Eric, of course, blames the customers.

A lady outside is particularly distressed.

Tim is surely dead.

...or is he?

What happens, you ask? FIND OUT NOW! GO WATCH THE EPISODE YOU SPRING TURKEY. I'm gonna go re-watch it for the sixth time. Still not enough.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Music Critic Profile: Robert Christgau

Remember that scene in This Is Spinal Tap where Marty DeBergi is reading off all of the terrible reviews Spinal Tap have accumulated over the years? And he reads off the review of their album Shark Sandwich - "This one's a two-word review: 'Shit sandwich'"? And the band gets all upset and says "Is that real? You can't print that!" If I didn't know any better I would say that was a little dig at Robert Christgau, so-called "Dean of Rock Critics."

Now, I've been a little hesitant to profile Mr. Christgau, and there's a simple reason for it: I don't like the guy very much. He's kind of a prick. You know the aforementioned "Dean of Rock Critics" bullshit title? Yeah, I'm pretty sure he came up with that himself (I mean, jeez, not even Michael Jackson had the gumption to call himself the "King of Pop" - Liz Taylor did that for him). His short, stylized "capsule reviews" are loaded with abstract verse and often impenetrable language, giving the guy an unflappable air of pretension. I'm not sure who chooses what artist he reviews - it's either the magazine he writes for or himself, and I'm guessing the latter - but reading his reviews I always get the impression that he is impossibly above the subject he is reviewing, a lousy trait for any good critic. It gets the the point where he will review certain artists he doesn't like in a wholly dismissive manner, giving them a "shit sandwich" kind of review or simply labeling them as a "dud" and moving on with his life, as if said artist isn't worth his valuable time. Maybe he's earned it - considering that he was part of the first wave of rock critics back in the 60s, and he's still reviewing albums constantly, I guess he deserves to be finicky about what music he writes about. But the fact that the guy is a veteran rock critic doesn't wash the taste of asshole out of my mouth.

So why profile him? Well, 'cuz I read Christgau's stuff all the time. Head on over to and you'll find tons of his reviews from Rolling Stone, the Village Voice, Blender, and many other sources, not to mention his Consumer Guide capsule reviews that are his trademark. I'm not sure why, but I get a real kick out of reading Christgau's reviews when I'm bored. It's like a game for me - I'll think of any given band and wonder, "Hey, I wonder what Christgau thinks of the Arcade Fire?" I type "Arcade Fire" into the Consumer Guide search, and voila, there's the review! (Note: He likes the Arcade Fire.) Man, that's something I need - a quick hit of terse, over-worded cynicism to get my brain boiling. I hate to use the cliche Forrest Gump analogy, but with Christgau, you never know what he's going to think about a band, and for whatever reason I'm always curious to know.

Now, what I have found out in the year-and-a-half or so of reading Mr. Christgau's reviews is that I tend to not agree with him most of the time. In fact, he tends to be completely flippant about bands I really like, not to mention somewhat douchey about albums I really really like. That alone isn't enough to really bother me - everyboy's entitled to their opinion - but it's just the way he does it that gets me. Maybe it's related to his "grading" system - rather than a five-star or out-of-ten gauge that most reviewers use, he uses an A plus-to-E minus system that just makes his personality all the more insufferable. Maybe that's his schtick or something; he's the "Dean" of rock critics so he has to grade artists academically, like a schoolmarm. Whatever his intentions, the whole grading business makes it seem like Christgau views pop albums like term papers in Chemistry class, which doesn't help his "douche" image. You know, I would wager that Robert Christgau is the definitive archetype of the Hated Rock Critic that so many people have decried over the years - condescending, hyper-literate, and often disrespectful, he might be the sole reason that most rock bands (and worse, rock fans) hate rock critics. So in a way he's ruining it for the rest of us who, you know, would prefer not to be treated like pompous douches.

OK, maybe I'm trailing off into a tangent of hate here. As I said, I read Christgau a lot, and to be honest I do not think he is a bad writer, not by a long shot. He's obviously a very smart human being. It would also be pretty hypocritical of me to get angry at him over dismissing bands he doesn't care about - I do it all the time. And once in a while I will find a review page on his site that I very much enjoy. Admittedly, they tend to be ones I agree with: I love his pages on Pavement and the Ramones, and I will give credit to Christgau for writing what I consider to be the best review of Sgt. Pepper's I've ever read. He also does, at times, turn me on to unusual albums I'd never considered hearing, like the Beach Boys' Wild Honey or the Talking Heads' Little Creatures. He also has a decent knack for championing great artists before anyone else does, like Prince or the Replacements. There are also some hilarious reviews here that only further Christgau's classic asshole image, most notably on his Sonic Youth page in which he gives a bad review to "Kill Yr. Idols," a song that openly called out Christgau by name. (Yes, Robert Christgau is so douchey that Sonic Youth wrote a song about it. Need I say any more?)

Now, something Mr. Christgau can totally 100% be proud of is the annual Village Voice Pazz & Jop Critics Poll, a poll he organized and ran for a solid three decades until he was dismissed from the magazine a couple years back. Over the years, prominent music critics have submitted their choices for the best albums / singles of the year, going as far back as 1971. Looking through these polls, it's honestly a treasure trove - there are so many interesting choices and obscure favorites buried in these lists, it's like manna from heaven for any obsessive popular music historian. There's also tons of weird, unexpected winners here that are so trivial and wonderful I can't resist looking for more. Guess who won Best Album of 1992? Nope, not Pavement - Arrested Development! Best Album of 1994? Nope, not Pavement - Hole! Guess who won in '99? PAVEMENT! (Okay, no, it was Moby. My bad. But seriously, Moby??) And hey, how 'bout the whacked-out year that Bob Dylan won Best Album and Hanson won Best Single? Or the even more whacked-out year that Bob Dylan won Best Album and Missy Elliot won Best Single?. Man, I love this stuff! Even if you don't like Christgau all that much, you should probably check out this list. It's a hoot!

When I think about it, maybe it's silly for me to get pissed at Christgau. The guy's in his 60's now, and his relevance is dwindling by the year - not only does he not run Pazz & Jop anymore after his aforementioned dismissal from the Village Voice, but he's working for Blender now. Bleh. But nevertheless, his website is an essential archive for any rock fan, and he'll always be a definitive figure in rock music journalism, for better or for worse. He'll never be any Lester Bangs, even if he wants to be, but he is an influential force. After four decades of writing, I guess that's worth something.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Super Nintendo Review: Mega Man X

Admittedly, the more I hear about Capcom's surprise Mega Man 9 announcement, the more I'm reminded of their sad tendency to run their best franchises into the ground. No Capcom franchise got screwed worse than Mega Man - even Street Fighter, with its constant stream of gratuitous sequels and expansions, hasn't suffered a case of sequelitis quite as fatal as Mega Man's. Even barring the eight original series games, which is already a lot of sequels for any franchise, you've got 8 Mega Man X games, 3 Legends games, 4 Mega Man Zeros, 6 Battle Networks, and even 2 ZX games, not to mention all the side-games and compilations that've been shat out with varying quality for the past two decades (none of which I feel like counting). And the fact that Capcom has barely changed the core Mega Man formula since the first game hasn't stemmed the tide of "those motherfuckers are lazy" accusations.

But hey, who am I kidding? I love the Mega Man formula, and when Capcom does it right it makes for some ass-kickin' action games. It's so simple: a little robot man has to kill eight evil robots and steal their weapons, then slog through four tough-as-tits fortress levels before fighting all the same evil robots again. Force-feed me that shit, man! It's a tried-and-true, fun structure, and while Capcom has spanked it around in some less-than-stellar games (Mega Man 8, Mega Man X6, god knows what else), I always get a kick out of it. It's like a Tom Petty album - when you pick up a Mega Man game, you know exactly what you're getting, and if you already like it then it's almost always enjoyable. Once in a blue moon, however, Capcom will take the Mega Man formula and simply make it bigger and better than they ever have before. Case in point, Mega Man X.

Jesus what the fuck is that??

Mega Man X was Capcom's first Mega Man game for the Super NES, released shortly after Mega Man 6 for the NES had hit the shelves in early 1994. Since Capcom had already exhausted the usual Mega Man formula on the NES, they decided that the beefed-up SNES would be the perfect chance to revamp the franchise and make it feel new again. They succeeded with flying colors; Mega Man X is a testament to the amount of craftsmanship Capcom puts into its best games. Playing X even now, you can tell that the developers, freed from the restraints of the NES, were simply shoving every ounce of creativity they had into this game, trying out a bunch of new ideas and making Mega Man more fun and impressive than ever.

There are some... slight translation errors.

Mega Man X's style is distinctly different from its NES counterparts; in revamping the series, Capcom decided to ditch the cartoony feel of the early games and inject a good dose of dark, futuristic imagery into the Mega Man mythos. Since plotwise the game takes place 100 years after the original series, the whole thing has a quasi-cyberpunk feel to it, with technological wonder popping up everywhere - even in the middle of a snowfield or a forest, there's more than a handful of creepy animal-like robots to be found. Obviously, the whole game is overrun with evil evil robots (par the course for any MM game) but here they're even more menacing and weird. While the eight Maverick bosses (as they're called) here are as notable as ever - like the obscuro-beetle Boomer Kuwanger or the out-and-out ferocious Spark Mandrill - even random mid-stage baddies manage to surprise, like the giant bee-like behemoth in the opening level and those swarming piranha fish in the water level that try to suck you in and swallow you whole. And of course, there's Mega Man himself - now called "Mega Man X" (or "X" for short), the protagonist of the game has a constant scowl on his face, always appearing hell-bent on burning some Maverick ass. It's a far cry from the emotionless NES sprite, and it's a perfect summation of the mood Capcom was going for.

Dude, the spider dude? Fuckin' asshole.

And of course, there's the gameplay. While it sticks with the core Mega Man formula - you still play as a robot kid who has to kill eight bosses by shooting pellets at them - there are some substantial add-ons. Instead of sliding, you can now dash forward, not to mention being able to climb walls by repeatedly tapping the jump button. This not only makes your character feel more flexible, it allows for the player to run-and-shoot like some kind of action hero, making previous Mega Man games look stiff by comparison. Adding to this are various armor upgrades the player can collect; besides the aforementioned dashing, you can pick up a helmet for breaking blocks, armor for defense, and a stronger arm cannon - one that actually lets you charge up your special weapons along with your regular X-Buster. They aren't huge additions, but they're just enough to make that game feel a little more alive (read: bitchin') than previous Mega Man games.

Vile is really... what's the word I'm looking for here... a dick.

If there is one element to Mega Man X that has always impressed me, it is its story. No, really, I'm kinda surprised too in retrospect. Capcom has never been a company known for compelling narratives - especially nowadays, with lousy scripts and terrible voice acting hampering even their best games - but Mega Man X's plot is a perfect example of less being more. Maybe it was just technical limitation, considering that Capcom was all too eager to shove contrived anime overdramatics into the series the moment they got their hands on the Playstation's capabilities, but X's plot is totally bare-bones - hell, they barely even give you any backstory in-game (besides the instruction manual and a very brief opening cinema that's nothing but technical specs). The game isn't hampered by excessive character development or obnoxiously long cutscenes, but when the game does decide to get a little dramatic, it's extremely invigorating.


Case in point: the character of Zero, X's mentor (and fellow badass). Zero, while not much more than a classic "good guy" archetype, is a very useful character in this game. For one, he gives the player something to shoot for. In the opening stage, X is forced to fight Vile, a Boba Fett-lookin' Napoleon riding a giant mecha that is purposefully impossible to beat. But then, hey, Zero shows up and blows the guy's arm off in one blast, telling X that if he "realizes his true potential" he can be just as strong as him. It's an ingenious gesture that's Capcom's inadvertent way of saying, "Hey, you can be just as badass as this guy if you play through each level a lot and get all the neat upgrades!" And when Zero blows himself up to save X against Vile near the end of the game, it's unusual how touching and sad it is (if you ignore the fact that Zero was "miraculously" revived in the next game, that is). Another favorite moment of mine has to be the ending of the game, which is - in this humble writer's opinion - one of the finest endings in any video game, ever. Basically, X blows up the bad guy's headquarters, letting it explode in a giant wave of light. But instead of some quick "THANKS FOR PLAYING" screen, you witness X standing on a cliff while a remarkably sad piece of music plays and a text monologue scrolls by: "Those who sacrificed themselves for the victory will never return." Shit, man. How many games in the early 90's - let alone Mega Man games - ended like this? It's basically telling the player, "Well, you beat the game, but you didn't really win. Everyone is dead because of you." It's probably the best downer of an ending this side of Half-Life.

Umm... hooray?

Mega Man X is a short game - even if you don't know the game well, you can probably finish it in a few sittings - but it's a memorable one, as it's probably one of the finest action games available on the SNES. Unfortunately, appreciation for X often gets clouded by the slew of good-to-terrible X games that came in its wake, suffering an even worse case of rehashing than the original Mega Man series. Yeah, Zero would die and come back to life like fifty times, X would gain an annoying high-pitched voice, and main antagonist Sigma would become a half-brained crazy person, but Mega Man X still stands as a fantastic slice of 16-bit entertainment. Here's hoping Mega Man 9 can recapture some of that magic; hell, if the game is as good as its box art, I'd say we have nothing to worry about.

(Oh shit, I didn't mention the soundtrack, did I? It's probably the best game soundtrack ever made ever. But who cares.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Six Commonly Mislabeled Songs On The Internet (aka, Are You SURE ZZ Top Didn't Do "Low Rider?")

We all make mistakes. We're all human beings, right? We're hardly infallible creatures. Yet somehow, we tend to be slightly less infallible when it comes to correctly identifying who performed our favorite songs. Back in the old days, it was a common dilemma - listening to the radio, if someone heard a Badfinger song that sounded like the Beatles, they'd easily just assume it was the Beatles. If someone heard "Jack and Diane" over and over and over, they might just convince themselves that it was a new Springsteen song. Sure, it might sound all innocent and naive, but try to correct these people and they would defend - to the DEATH - that Poison did "Cherry Pie," or that Neil Young did "A Horse With No Name." Once someone stamps it into their head that so-and-so band did so-and-so song, it becomes very hard to tell them otherwise.

"But Sean!" you might say. "It's the 2000s! The Information Age! We can look up any song lyrics we like in a matter of seconds! Surely this confusion must be extinct!" Man, I would like to believe that, but somehow the internet has just made things worse. In the age of P2P networks and iTunes, rampant file sharing has made it all the easier to mislabel a song and spread that mistake like wildfire. Just the other day I had to tell my friend - as politely as possible - that "Black Hole Sun" was not, in fact, recorded by the Stone Temple Pilots. Apparently I, an obnoxious music nerd, am the only person in the world that cares about labeling songs correctly! IS THAT SO WRONG??

But don't you worry. I am here to clear the omnipresent fog, remove the confusion that has plagued you all for so long. Without further adieu, here are six songs that I see constantly mislabeled, along with the band that actually performed the song. Just to make things 100% clear, I will link to a Youtube video for each song proving, without a doubt, that said artist did said song. As a lonely music nerd, it is one of the few things I am actually good at, and I feel it is my duty as an American to dispel the spread of misinformation at all costs.

So please. Adjust your iTunes tags accordingly.

"Stuck In The Middle With You" by Stealer's Wheel... or Bob Dylan?

We'll start with a reasonable one. This is a pretty common misconception, but it's easily debunked. This song is by an early 70's pop duo called Stealer's Wheel. The dude's voice sounds a lot like Bob Dylan's, but it's a bit more tuneful and a bit less interesting, so it's not that hard to tell that it ain't good old Bob.

An even easier de-bunking comes from Reservoir Dogs, where the song was played during the infamous "ear-cutting" scene. Heck, their explanation of the song is so good that I didn't bother to find a video of the actual band performing the song and just linked to that scene. They even call it "Dylanesque." So there you go.

"I've Seen Better Days" by Citizen King... or Sublime?

This one's worse than I thought. I searched for this song on Youtube, thinking naively to myself, "Oh yeah, they'll have that Citizen King video! The one with them in the mall! Everybody knows that video!"

But nope. Instead I find a bunch of videos with the song playing over a picture of Sublime, usually with the info saying something like "I thought this was Sublime, but it's not, sorry!" The video I've been forced to link to is a sad example of this trend, to the point where the guy who posted it had to disable comments after waves upon waves of people claimed it was a Sublime song.

See, I'd never heard of Sublime when "I've Seen Better Days" came out. In fact, by the time this song came out, Sublime lead singer Bradley Nowell had been dead for three years. So not only did Sublime not originally record this song, they never even covered it. Citizen King were simply some one-hit-wonder Johnny-Come-Lately from the late 90's that happened to sound kinda like them. That's it.

So please, let this one die. Not just for me. For Bradley.

"Low Rider" by War... or ZZ Top?

OK, now we're dipping into silly territory. ZZ Top were not a tootin' gootime horn band, OK? Don't we all know this by now? They were a bunch of crazily bearded men who played poppy blues-rock like "La Grange" and "Legs" and "Gimme All Your Lovin'." THEY USED GUITARS MAN NOT FUCKIN' CORNY-POO HORNS.


Really though, this song does not sound like ZZ Top. At all. Ok, MAYBE the vocals but that's it. THAT'S IT.

Well, there still is some room for confusion. Even the infallible Wikipedia places ZZ Top at the end of a long list of artists that have covered the song. But man, search around for ZZ Top's so-called "cover" of the song and all you'll come up with is the original War version. Mislabeled. I'm starting to believe it doesn't exist.

...nah, screw it. It doesn't exist.

"Breakfast At Tiffany's" by Deep Blue Something... or Hootie & The Blowfish?

Oh come on now people. Hootie and the fuckin' Blowfish did this song?? REALLY? No no, jeez. JEEZ. Listen to a Hootie song and then listen to this song. One has a low-voiced black man singing, the other a nasally snarky white man. HOW CAN YOU CONFUSE THIS SHIT WHAT THE HELL.

OK, to be fair, this song is more commonly mislabeled as a Barenaked Ladies song, which makes three-fucking-billion-metric-tons more sense than Hootie and the Blowfish. Hell, for a decent amount of time even I was convinced this was a Barenaked Ladies track 'cause they sound so fuckin' similar! The self-deprecating lyrics, the stupid melody, the 90's irony - everything. So please! People! If you're going to mislabel this song, do it right!! We don't want Darius Rucker responsible for this shit.

So to clarify: this is a Deep Blue Something song. Yes, they were another one-hit wonder that nobody gives a shit about anymore. (Noticing a trend here?)

OK, in terms of music this is probably the most ridiculous on this list. But I assure you, it's slim pickens compared to the last two on this list. Prepare yourselves.

"Roll To Me" by Del Amitri... or the Spin Doctors?

This one so bad that not only have people gotten the band wrong, they've even come up with their own NAME for the song. If you're curious, Google "Spin Doctors + Pretty Baby + lyrics" and you will get the lyrics for this song. This one is so phenomenally widespread, actually, that the Spin Doctors themselves were forced to rebuke it on their Myspace page. Probably after countless stoned teenagers at their concerts keep shouting "PRETTY BABY! PLAY 'PRETTY BABY'!!" (This, of course, is assuming teenagers still think the Spin Doctors are cool.)

I mean, that's kind of insulting, isn't it? If it's like "Freebird!" or something, everyone knows it's a joke. But if it's a song that people think you did that you CLEARLY didn't do, it shows that said person doesn't give a shit about the band enough to learn what songs they've done. Not to mention that this is so widespread, they must have to hear about it a lot. Come on, you guys. The Spin Doctors aren't exactly on top of the world right now. Give 'em a break.

It's funny, because this song doesn't sound all that much like the Spin Doctors. Del Amitri were a British pop-rock band, pretty different in attitude from a laid-back early-90's jam-band. The song is a pretty tightly constructed sweet pop hit, as opposed to say "Two Princes" or "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong" which were loose, jammy guitar hits. And as far as vocals go? Not too similar!

So again! To clarify! The song "Pretty Baby" by the Spin Doctors doesn't exist. DELETE IT OR RENAME IT OR EMAIL THE SPIN DOCTORS AN APOLOGY FOR SPREADING DIRTY DIRTY RUMORS.

"All For You" by Sister Hazel... or Blues Traveler?

Oh God no. My secret shame. No no. No. It's happening all over again.

Years. YEARS of searching for this so-called "Blues Traveler" song. "Hey, it sounds like that song 'Run-Around'!" I thought to myself foolishly. "Shit, I bet it was even on the same album!"

But it wasn't on the same album as "Run-Around," Four. "Oh, well, my bad," I thought. "But it must be on another album of theirs! Duhh! Lemme check through their discography - I'm sure it'll pop up."

But "All For You" was nowhere to be found. Not on Save His Soul, not on Straight On Till Morning, not even on Bridge. But I wouldn't back down! Oh no! "It must be a B-side!" I thought to myself, sinking deeper and deeper into delusion. "A single that wasn't on an album! It's probably on a compilation or something. I just won't worry about it."

And there it sat in my iTunes for years: "Blues Traveler - All For You." It sat there like a festering cancerous cell, spreading and tainting my entire collection. Then all the sudden - as soon as a week ago - I heard about this band "Sister Hazel" that did this song in the 90's called "All For You."

Then it all made sense. Reality came crashing down. That John Popper harmonica solo I always recalled when thinking about "All For You" was really in "Run-Around" - "All For You" just has a guitar solo. Actually, upon closer inspection, "All For You" has no harmonica. NO GODDAMNED HARMONICA. IT WAS ALL IN MY HEAD.

How could this happen? How could I be so idiotically fooled?? IT'S THE INTERNET'S FAULT. I searched for "All For You - Blues Traveler Lyrics" and I got results. And like a fool, I believed them. I did it. I DID IT.

I'm sorry everyone. I'm... I'm sorry.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Track-By-Track Review: "Weezer (The Red Album)" by Weezer

Hahahahahahahahaha!!!! He's a cowb - hheheheAHHAHAHAA

Everybody's heard this album already. Everybody's reviewed it already. I feel like I'm late to the party here.

I can't call this a "One-Listen Review" 'cause I've heard this one second-hand a number of times. But this is the first time I've sat down and listened to it without distraction. Maybe I can bring a fresh new perspective to this album that nobody will expect!

Or maybe not. This album is pretty meh.

Track 1 - "Troublemaker"

Nothing new here, but I like it. Crunchy Cheap Trick guitar, starts off immediately with weird Rivers Cuomo vocals about being a badass or something. "Don't let me play football / I'll sack the quarterback / and jack the brother of the ball." Zip zup?

It's a catchy enough song, despite being wholly generic Weezer-by-numbers. But let's ignore that for a bit. Check out the chorus: "I'm a troublemaker / never been a faker / doin' things my own way / and never givin' up." Yes, Rivers is a "troublemaker." A rabble-rouser. He does things the way he wants to fuck the Man. He also goes on to claim that he's "not a double-taker," like he hasn't been repeating the same tepid Weezer formula for the past seven years.

There is one bit here I really like - Rivers has some weird line that's like "You wanted arts and crafts / how's this for arts and crafts?" and then bursts out with this zippity one-note guitar solo while singing "nananananana - THAT'S RIGHT!" It breaks things up a bit! It's cool! It's nutty! It's sadly atypical compared to the rest of the album!

Well, except for the next song.

Track 2: "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)"

Is Rivers Cuomo, like, Brian Wilson's Zoloft-addicted grandson or something? I'm not saying this in terms of talent - he's got a knack for melody, sure, but he's no Brian Wilson. But I do think the comparison is apt when you think of what a weirdo song-hoarding recluse he is, and not unlike the aforementioned Wilson he has a tendency to let his twisted self-absorbed mania seep creepily into his music.

"Greatest Man That Ever Lived" is the perfect encapsulation of both Cuomo's on-and-off genius and fucked-up perspective on modern popular music all in one. What other musician nowadays - hell, ever - would awkwardly rap lines like "You try to play it cool but you just don't care / But soon I'll be playin' in your underwear / I'm like the mage with the magic spell / You come like a dog when I ring your bell" over a sweet piano rendition of "Simple Gifts" and a fuckin' police siren? Who else would have a monk-ish choir sing "After the havoc that I'm gonna wreak / no more words will critics have to speak" over a martial drum beat? Who else would do an outright ludicrous auto-biographical spoken-word recitation ("Act 1 - I was strugglin' to survive / nobody wanted my action dead or alive / act 2, I hit the big time / the bodies be all up on my behind") over "doo doo!" backup vocals? NOBODY BUT RIVERS FUCKIN' CUOMO, PEOPLE.

But I really dig this song, and not just for the Cuomoist blathering - there's a lot of non-embarrassing catchy parts here too! I really like Cuomo's weird Freddie Mercury impression, and I love how after all these weird detours the song ultimately ends on a Weezer-by-numbers pop-grunge thing. Really, this song is so oddly fun and so totally warped that I would say it is, besides most of Pinkerton, the perfect example of Rivers Cuomo's schizoid personality ever committed to record. Psychologists looking to finish your term paper on fucked-up musicians, take note.

Seriously, there's almost no point in talking about the rest of the songs here. None are as good!

Track 3 - "Pork And Beans"

Rivers Cuomo is a badass, doesn't do what his label / the public / his friends / anybody with a brain wants him to do, yadda yadda yadda. This is the third chorus on the album that's totally self-absorbed. But let's not worry about that.

This was the big single, and the first song I heard from the album. I thought it was OK when I first heard it, then when the video came out I really dug it, with all those internet dudes in one place. Neat! Now I think it's just kinda OK again. I like how the main riff is that kind of awkward business Weezer perfected in "El Scorcho," and I like how the lyrics are a little more ballsy than the rest of the album (the Timbaland line is priceless). But otherwise, nothing huge.

Track 4 - "Heart Songs"



Track 5 - "Everybody Get Dangerous"

Ah shit, I thought the next track was "Dreamin'," which I kinda-sorta like. Instead it's this Red Hot Chilli Peppers shit.

I think the lyrics are about Rivers being a wuss? Like, the title is ironic or something? I don't want to look the lyrics up. I just don't care.

Track 6 - "Dreamin'"

Poppity hoppity zippty zow! I like this one - it's a fun uppity number that kinda reminds me of "Holiday" off Blue Album, although a bit more generic. "I'm dreamin' in the morning / I'm dreamin' all through the night / and when I'm dreamin' I know that it's alright." Something about this line just stands out as remarkably lazy, I don't know why. It's like the most obvious rhyme in pop music history.

But there's a really cool bouncy bridge here, and I really like the weird 80's-synth opening that makes no sense. Good stuff! (Except for maybe that "I don't wanna get witcha program" part at the end that makes even less sense.)

Track 7 - "Thought I Knew"

And here on we venture into "Other Band Members' Songs" territory, or as I like to call it "We Can't Have Rivers Funneling More Crap Out His Skull, Don't Tell Him We're Recording Today" territory. I think this one's by their lead guitarist? I forget his name.

Either way, I like this song better than the last few times I've heard it. Here's my problem with it: this guy's voice is douchey. It's like Uncle Cracker or something. I like the strummy hand-clap cuteness of it, but his voice just negates it for me. It doesn't help that the song itself is pretty generic.

Movin' on.

Track 8 - "Cold Dark World"

ooooooooh it sucks rivers come back!

Track 9 - "Automatic"

The drummer sings this song. It's actually good! Probably better than a handful of the Rivers songs on here! No joke! It's got a good kind of groove and doesn't sound as hippy-dippy generic like most of the album.

Ok so let's say that these three songs by the other three band members have been Weezer's version of "The Dating Game." Bachelor number one attempted to make himself look sympathetic and sweet in a really obnoxious way, and bachelor number two attempted a really crappy pick-up line. But bachelor number three, hey - he's cool, laid-back, and fun! BACHELOR NUMBER THREE WINS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. He and Rivers can go on a sloppy makeout date in the Bahamas or something.

Speaking of Rivers, back to his shit.

Track 10 - "Angel and the One"

Why does this song remind me of Coldplay? Or maybe not Coldplay. Switchfoot? I don't know.

Hey, this one isn't bad! Kind of a sweet power ballad. Doesn't really sound like Weezer, though - sounds like one of the aforementioned generic wuss-rockers that've come to glory as of late. So that kinda sucks. But at least Rivers is still capable of an effective overblown ballad.

Ugh, Hoobastank maybe? I don't wanna compare Weezer to Hoobastank. But they almost sound like them. YYYYargh.


Inconsistent. Probably better than Make Believe but what the fuck isn't? If you're any kind of Weezer fan you should hear "Greatest Man That Ever Lived," which sums up this new brand of Weezer better than anything I've heard.

But that good 'ol underdog Weezer mystique is dead. Long dead. There'll never be a Blue Album again, or a Pinkerton, or even a Green Album. Cuomo just don't got the cojones anymore.

Either way, I will wait here in perverse anticipation of Cuomo's next breakdown set to music. The albums might not be all that great anymore, but as long as Cuomo keeps his heart sewn on his sleeve, we'll get at least one piece of "Greatest Man"-esque weirdness on every last Weezer album until Cuomo becomes the most awkward 50-year-old in the world and quits music forever. Doesn't he have a wife and a kid now? Shouldn't he be content instead of outright insane? WHAT IS THIS??

Monday, July 07, 2008

On Our Musical Heritage (or Why I Reserve The Right To Like A Hanson Song)

How strongly are we shaped by the music we grew up with? This is something I've been pondering for a while: how whatever music blasting out of our stereos in our formative years jolts our brains into valuing different aspects of sound far into adulthood. This whole "good taste" in music really is a load of nothing when you think about it, 'cause hey, maybe all we're doing when we hear music we like is reacting to an impulse implanted deep, deep within our brains when we were like 3 years old! Maybe that obnoxious kid on your street who you always see loudly skateboarding on the sidewalk is only wearing that Linkin Park T-shirt 'cause he has to! 'cause his tainted brain demands it!!

Listen, I'm no scientist, but I demand my theory be tested by the greatest scientific minds of our era. If there's any weight here and we all work hard enough to fund the project, we can make any good impulses toward Linkin Park extinct by 2020.

Either way, I can't help but ponder this 'cuz the more I remember my own musical upbringing, the more I realize how fucked up it was. Perhaps some comparison is in order; since reading Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life, chronicling a handful of seminal American indie bands in the '80s, I keep hearing about these kids in their 20s viewing the music they grew up with in the '60s and the '70s as the ultimate ideal, holding it dear to them and funneling it through this exciting new music they were creating. At the same time, they were a generation of kids separated from the first wave of rock 'n roll in the '50s, instead being weaned on '60s hippiedom and '70s slick arena rock; as the Replacements put it, they were forced to celebrate their own "fucked-up heritage."

And man, that flabbergasted me. If growing up with '70s rock was already considered fucked up as far back as the '80s, where does that leave kids like me? Nowadays all that slick-radio-ready Boston/Aerosmith/Kansas shit is called "classic rock," which gives people our age the impression that it's music from a simpler, purer time (yes... the '70s). So jesus, what does that say about us? I was a kid born in the late '80s, a time where more than a few people already considered rock 'n roll dead two or three times over. For a while I was raised on Broadway musicals and almost nothing else, save for '80s pop like Michael Jackson, Chaka Khan, Prince, and the Footloose soundtrack. Once I finally started getting into new pop music, it was already the late '90s, a time where even so-called "alternative" rock was on the skids and teeny-pop music was at its zenith of artificiality thanks to the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. Besides teen-pop, some of music's worst genres ever were springing up in droves: emo-pop, rap-rock, punk-pop, nu-metal, ska-punk, faceless R&B, crunk, Latin dance-pop, and obnoxious novelty acts like the Bloodhound Gang and the Baha Men. Oh, and Creed were there, too.

Jesus. If Paul Westerberg's upbringing was fucked-up 'cause of Styx, mine must be real fucked up.

Now, any logical kid my age would either try to suppress these shitty musical roots by any means possible, or embrace them so much that they somehow think Sublime were better than the Beach Boys or something. Most of the time it's either one or the other. In my case, once the Beatles and a legion of classic rock bands invaded my stereo commando-style to "save" my taste in music, I pretty much became the former - a rock 'n roll purist vehemently against the stupid music of my generation. Problem is, deep down, I wasn't really a purist, I just wanted to have decent tastes in music and not look like the 12-year-old TRL-watching goon I used to be. Suppressing my instinctive attraction to all that stupid shitty late-90s pop was something I could never get away with for very long.

Don't get me wrong here - I loved all that classic rock. Furthermore I still love all the punk, indie, alt-rock, post-punk, hardcore, whathaveyou business that I've been neck-deep in since I started college and let my tastes mature. But I'll be honest, it is necessary - crucial - for me to listen to the Replacements or Richard Hell about as much as, say, the Backstreet Boys or Blink-182. This isn't because I consider those bands to be equal in terms of artistry, oh no. It's even gone beyond mere nostalgia, although that still plays a big part in it. No, this music is my heritage now. I grew up with it, and it's mine. It's part of my DNA. Whatever record executive masterminded these songs succeeded 100 percent of the way, because even in my adulthood they have never escaped my brain. So instead of dismissing them as the passing fancies of a pre-teen, I'll play them over and over, let them bury themselves further and further into my skull until one day I'll spit them back out with some burst of artistic positivity. Make them work for me.

And hell, why shouldn't I? This stuff isn't going to destroy my matured adult tastes anytime soon. It just makes me feel good, in a way that a Fugazi song never could. Yeah, my musical upbringing could be considered unnatural, but if anything all those obnoxiously-catchy songs have taught me the value of a good melodic hook. If I can let the good aspects of this music influence me, why worry about the bad? And hey, once in a while I'll find a band I grew up with that I don't have to be ashamed about. Last year I heard Hanson's "MMMBop" for the first time since I was ten, a song I hated when it was released; all the sudden, it sounded fresh and wonderful to me. Just a few days ago I heard another one of theirs, the later "This Time Around," which sounded even better to me. Keep digging and once in a while you'll find a diamond in the rough.

I guess the bottom line is this: whatever your musical heritage is, feel free to hear it, twist it, burn it, bury it, smash it, dance to it, blast it, celebrate it in any way you see fit. No matter how fucked up it is, you have that power.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Album Review: "The Byrds Greatest Hits" by the Byrds

"And I'll gladly stand up next to you, and defend her still today" - The Byrds I think

Hey, it's the 4th of July! A wonderful time to celebrate the good 'ol US of A! Hangin' out on the lawn! Eating corn and potato salad! Going to crappy pool parties with a bunch of obnoxious people you haven't seen in years and never want to see again! Shootin' off borderline illegal explosives that make pretty colors like blue and red! UNCLE SAM IS PROUD TODAY.

And since it's America's most glorious day among glorious days, I feel it's a perfectly flimsy excuse to discuss one of America's finest pop groups: The Byrds. Why the Byrds? Well, it's simple - the Byrds are the one American band that have anything in common with those proud hot-headed American Revolutionaries back in the good 'ol 1770s. Just think about it: where the American revolutionaries stole the British colonies from King Whoever, the Byrds stole British Invasion from the Beatles! Where America took those colonies and developed their own country, with their own customs and whatever, the Byrds took that British Invasion sound and shoved apple-pie Americans Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan in there creating a "revolution" called folk-rock! Where Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense to slander the British, Roger McGuinn wrote "So You Wanna Be a Rock 'n Roll Star" which was probably a dig at the Stones or something! Where the Boston Tea Party dumped all that British tea in the Boston Harbor, the Byrds stole a truckful of promo-copy Rubber Soul vinyls and dumped them in the Los Angeles River along with Neil Young and the Hawks! (True story.)

Bottom line: the Byrds were just as important as Thomas Jefferson. If not more so.

Now the album. Most people who know me well know that I don't like compilations - if I love a band enough, I feel like I owe it to them to check out their official albums rather than some tacky 5-buck best-of. But I am fond of singles collections, especially from 60's bands who commonly released a slew of non-album singles (The Beatles' Past Masters and the Who's Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy come to mind), not to mention B-sides and various unreleased rarities. Byrds Greatest Hits, admittedly, is nothing more than a bunch of mid-sixties Byrds hits that can mostly (if not totally) be found on their best studio albums. But considering the quality of the songs here as well as the impeccable structure of the album (in chronological order from '65 to '67), it packs an all-encompassing punch every compilation strives for. Essentially, it's a document of the peak years of one of the best American bands of the '60s, with eleven classic songs. Tough to argue with that.

I don't know. Maybe I have a personal bias. For one, Greatest Hits was my first exposure to the Byrds; back when I had a new record player and limitless access to my dad's vinyl collection, Greatest Hits was one of my favorite little treasures. Besides Mr. Tambourine Man it's still the only Byrds album I have. So while I'm hardly a Byrds expert, I feel that Greatest Hits does its job admirably - like the Beatles' 1, it's a collection of great songs that makes me want to hear more. Which I'm pretty certain is the goal of any decent compilation.

The song selection here is perfect. Yeah, there's lots of covers, but I feel guilty even calling these songs "covers." Anybody who accuses the Byrds of being sub-Dylan hacks aren't getting the point - while they did cover lots of folk standards, they'd inject them with original guitar and vocal hooks, turning them from died-in-the-wool static melodies into gloriously arranged pop dazzlers. Case in point: the inimitable 12-string guitar riff in "Mr. Tambourine Man," or the lovely new vocal bridge in "All I Really Wanna Do," or (most famously) the completely reworked arrangement of Pete Seeger's Bible adaptation "Turn! Turn! Turn!" During their peak, the Byrds had such an expansive, pretty sound that they could make any folk tune sound like a pop masterpiece. But while this set is dominated by covers (four Dylans, two Seegers), the five originals here are just as good if not better. "Eight Miles High" was the Byrds' first major foray into psychedelia and one of the first of the genre to make it onto American radio; "Mr. Spaceman" is a cute little bouncy pop tune; "5D (Fifth Dimension)" is an absolutely cool folk-strummer that just gets prettier and prettier the more it builds; "So You Wanna Be A Rock 'N Roll Star" is as pointed as rock satire could get from a 60's pop band. And then there's my personal favorite Byrds song, "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better," penned by the oft-unappreciated Gene Clark. Unlike the Byrds' more serious efforts, "Feel A Whole Lot Better" is an effortless pop gem.

If you need a decent introduction to the Byrds, you can't go wrong with this album. It gives you a little taste of their best era, before they jumped head-first into country-rock and endless jamming. It's divided up perfectly: folk-rock on the A-side, psychedelia on the B-side (although you'll find strands of both on each side). But hey, don't take my word for it - Rolling Stone apparently liked it enough to throw it on their 500 Greatest Albums list. Obviously their word is much more important on this matter than my own (they did give Linkin Park four stars last year, after all).

But hey - let's celebrate the Byrds like we celebrate America. 'cause who's more fuckin' American than the Byrds, I ask you? Who?? (Well, ok, the Byrds never wrote as song about putting our boot up the Arabs' asses. Touche, Toby Keith, touche.)

Ah crap, forget it. It's the 5th.