Monday, October 27, 2008

Upstate New York in an Amtrak Dome Car


This past weekend my wife and I took Amtrak to upstate New York just for the hell of it.

I'm old-school when it comes to travel. Funny thing is I always have been; it's not just happening as I get older. I am not some crotchety old crank who can't get his head around these newfangled "flying machines". I'm only in my 30's! I'm just a hopeless romantic, that's all. Not many people seem to be when it comes to travel anymore.

I love traveling for its own sake, and I love history. And I believe in the old cliche that life's about the journey, not the destination. I love to be able to see where I'm coming from and going to, I like to be comfortable when I'm doing it and I really don't like being rushed.

I know that at this time of year, upstate New York is supposed to be really beautiful, with the changing leaves and the hills and the lakes and all that. And I had heard that Amtrak was going to be running a dome car on their train that runs up there this year. I couldn't pass that up.

I've been amazed to discover that there are people out there that don't know what a dome car is. Our travel expectations have fallen so far so fast that we no longer feel entitled to anything other than a cramped little seat and a tray table. People used to demand a lot more. (Take a look at what travel by train used to be like. Though it sure seems like VIA Rail Canada still do a reasonable facsimile.)

This is a dome car:


This is also a dome car:


(I'm gonna get geeky for a minute: please don't call these "observation" cars. This is what an observation car looks like.)

Amtrak's got one of the cars pictured above now - there were four built:

The great thing about a dome car is, obviously, the view. Massive windows curving all around you, including front and back. Riding in one of these things is a unique and special experience. You are literally in an enclosed glass bubble above the train.

(Incidentally, Amtrak's west coast trains do have "sightseer lounges", which are similar but not the same because you can't see front or back. It's not a 360 degree view, and you're not above the train. Still fun, though.)

It's pretty rare to see one of these things around here. Amtrak's only got one left, and because of tunnel clearances they hardly ever ran much in the east even in the old days. Yeah, this is the last of Amtrak's domes, and it's more than 50 years old. Not many exist anywhere anymore. So sad!

There are booths behind us in this picture, where we sat most of the time. I actually like the shorter domes (like the top picture) because there's less ceiling and more glass (like this), and it's easier to see out front and back. But beggars can't be choosers in this country. And those windows are bigger than they look.

The train we took is called the Adirondack, and it's a pretty nondescript train most of the year, with five cramped coaches and a cafe car. It runs basically straight up the eastern New York state border, hugging the Hudson River for a while, then Lake Champlain, finally ending up in Montreal. For the past two years, over two months in the fall, they've stuck the dome car on at Albany. It's too bad they can't run it out of Penn Station, because some of the best scenery is in the Hudson River valley, but I guess they like the top on the car. Can't blame them!

Our coach was stifling hot and smelled like the bathroom. We made a beeline for the dome as soon as they hooked it up and we never left. We were amazed at the fact that hardly anybody followed us. (A few people did.) Again, I don't think most people know the score here. They just sat in their sauna-like, smelly, cramped little sardine can coaches, never knowing what they were missing.

We rode up to Plattsburgh. You may wonder why we didn't just go the extra 50 miles to Montreal, a real city where everybody speaks French and we could get some culture. Simple, really: it was more expensive, we wouldn't have gotten to see much of it anyway and we'd have to deal with US customs on the way back. The point of the trip was New York scenery, not visiting Montreal. So we saved some time and money and aggravation by getting off at Plattsburgh, a town that I'm sure is lovely and has a great tradition of higher learning but which we were simply using as a base camp.

After a drunken, restless night in a cheap, paper-thin walled Best Western, we ate our continental breakfast and then walked the two miles back to the train station.

The dome's already hooked up on the way down. But like before, it wasn't that crowded.

The weather was a lot better the second day, so we got to see a lot of stuff we'd missed coming up. Lake Champlain was heavily obscured the day before, but we could see all the way across to Vermont and the mountains on the other side on Sunday. Parts of the ride through that area are actually a little scary - the rocks from the cliffs along the shore are literally inches away from the train (see the video I posted) and there are a lot of trestles and other bits where it looks like the train is just hanging there either in mid-air or over water. And there's one point where you're about 300 feet up, and just looking down off a sheer cliff into the lake. I kept wondering how tightly packed the earth there was...



The train was late (par for the course), and was held up a couple times. I snapped this as we were sitting at a red signal at one point - click the image and look closely:

That horse was obviously wondering what the hell we were doing on his property.

Because we were so late, I was really hoping it'd get dark before Albany and we'd get to spend part of the night in the dome. It's always so quiet and peaceful up there at night. Sunset in the dome car:

Excuse the dirty windows.

As soon as the sun went down, they kicked us out. Really annoying! One thing I used to love about Amtrak when I was a kid was that they'd let you do anything. You could roam all over the train and stay wherever you wanted. You could even open the dutch door in the vestibule! (That's how people used to get great shots like this.) I rode a dome car on the Capitol Limited all night once, by myself. Nobody else in the car. It was so cool. Nowadays, they kick you out at dusk. Everything's become so sanitized, everybody's got so many rules. We need a little bit of 1970's-style anarchy in this country.

We watched the car get disconnected again at Albany and literally fade into the darkness. It was like watching a relic of better times ride off into the night. Bye bye, dome...

For all I know, that might be the last time I ever get to ride in one.

I can post pictures again

I found a workaround for my broken laptop. So I'll be able to post about my weekend soon. Here's a preview:


It was a beautiful, relaxing, romantic, nostalgic couple of days.

My laptop broke

Just before going away for the weekend, I pulled the power cable out of my laptop and the little pin that completes the power connection broke off. This is literally the third time this has happened to me. Looking around the net, I'm not the only one either. Is it really so fucking hard for manufacturers to figure out that this is a potential weak point? And that you don't make a laptop power connector like something you'd expect to find in a 1970's transistor radio?

Acer, the company I stupidly bought a computer made by, apparently charges $430 just to open the case on a laptop that's out of warranty (as mine is). I could buy a new one for that, which is probably what I'm gonna have to do. But it's not like I have that kind of money just lying around.

Anyway, in the meantime I'm not sure how I can post photos or anything. So it might be a little while until I get another real post up. I want to write about my little trip, but it's kinda pointless without the visuals.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Oh, by the way...

It's hard for me to even believe this, given that this is just my little blog about my crappy life and whatever I find interesting or annoying, but earlier this month I passed 100,000 page views. I'm currently at 104,357. So! Happy birthday to me, or something. Seriously, though, that's a number that most big commercial sites hit in a week (or even a day), but I think it's pretty good for some random guy's blog about nothing in particular.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Jackass

From MSNBC tonight:
McCain and Palin did differ on exactly what they meant when they criticized “elite” segments of American society, which they have mocked in an attempt to connect with what Palin called “hard-working, middle-class Americans.”

Palin said “elite” was a state of mind — “just people who think that they’re better than anyone else.” It cannot be identified by geography, income or level of education, she said.

McCain disagreed.

“I know where a lot of ’em live,” he said, laughing. The out-of-touch elites are “in our nation’s capital and New York City.”


You know what, jerk? You're disinvited from next year's 9/11 ceremony.

I don't want to hear one more word about how much you care about terrorism. Because you clearly hate the people that have been directly affected by it.

What kind of presidential candidate outright insults entire areas of the country? Especially when he's trying to ride something that happened to those same areas into the White House? What a complete asshole. George Bush is a moron, but this guy... this guy is a shriveled, bitter, old, worn-out douchebag.

And some people wonder why New York always votes Democratic.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Nightmare


They say there's nothing more boring than listening to the details of somebody else's dream. So I'm writing this mostly for myself.

Last night, I dreamt there was a storm coming. The news said the waves were really big out by the water. I wanted to see. I drove myself to the beach. There was nobody else there. In the middle of the beach, there was a raised pedestrian walkway, a little bridge like the kind you see over expressways. I couldn't figure out why it was there; there was nothing under it but sand. Still, I thought I could get a better look at the distant waves from on top. I walked up the steps and stood in the middle of it.

I watched the waves for a couple of minutes. They quickly moved closer and built in strength until one wave passed under me, then another. Finally, I was surrounded by water. The tide was higher than I'd ever seen it, and still rising. I couldn't get down or I knew I'd be pulled out to sea by the rip tide. I turned around to look back at the beach, and the closest land was about half a mile away. There was just me, standing on this bridge in the middle of the water in what was now a raging and violent storm.

When I turned back around, I saw a giant wave at least 100 feet high coming towards me. I knew my only hope was that it would break before it reached me and pass underneath the bridge. It did. But another followed, and then another, and as the tide rose, each one got a little closer before breaking. I started to worry that the bridge itself might collapse.

Finally, a wave broke just in front of the bridge, and I felt the bridge supports give way underneath me. Suddenly I was in the water, with the sensation of being pushed at high speed, my body being pummeled by the pressure. In the water all around me were torn and cracked pieces of metal from the now-demolished bridge. I thought I must be almost dead.

I must have blacked out, because the next thing I knew I was standing up, knee-deep in water and dragging my legs through the muck to get to land. The wave didn't kill me; it had picked me up and put me down that half mile inland, and now I was almost to safety. The water was so high that it now reached parts of the town, but I opened the door to a coffee shop and walked in, knowing I'd be safe there and that the storm would pass.

I'm not really sure what to make of this, except that it seems an obvious allegory for something currently going on in my life. I'm just not quite sure what. What storm am I caught up in? I must feel it, but I probably don't realize it. It must be something scary, but I must know that in the end, it's going to be all right. My job situation? Maybe. The falling value of my house? I wish it was something a little more interesting than that, but it might not be. I am not a drama queen, so the dramas I do have are always external and usually not very salacious. Unless there's something I've seriously repressed, which is possible too.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sigh

Haven't really been in the mood to write anything lately. I think it's the fall, which always makes me a little depressed. I love summer, I love heat and being outside and barbecuing and even going to the beach, which I keep meaning to do more of. I hibernate in winter. But I've actually been pretty busy too, cleaning the house up and building things. (You'd be amazed how much unopened junk mail from banks can accumulate between two lazy people in three years. Two full days of non-stop shredding!) But I just haven't felt like writing.

Funny thing is I've actually got about a dozen "drafts" of posts in here in various stages of completion, none of which will probably ever go up. I spend a lot of time writing stuff that I never publish. Some of it ends up being way too personal to either publish or delete, some of it's too dry, some too long, some too subject-specific, or dorky in some way, or not "bloggy" enough, or whatever. Maybe someday I'll do a mashup of all of them and just post random bits out of each one and see if it makes any sense.

This weekend we're going to the mountains by train. Then I'll have something to write about.

btw, your bonus election video, from my hero:

Saturday, October 11, 2008

"Unlawful"

I'm trying not to post every little thing that annoys me about this year's election campaign (and there are many), but I've been reading various articles about Sarah Palin's abuse of power (like this one) and I'm just wondering... what the hell does "unlawful" actually mean, and why are we using this word?

Don't we normally call stuff that's against the law "illegal"? Why are we not calling what she did illegal? Is it a social faux-pas when referring to elected officials? Is it because that would put her in the same league as drunk drivers and armed robbers and terrorists? Is it because saying she did something "illegal" would make everybody wonder why she's not being thrown in jail as she should be? (Or at least kicked out of the governor's office and off the ballot for VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, for god's sake).

Sarah Palin broke the law, specifically one of Alaska's ethics laws. What she did was illegal, not "unlawful". And this is the first time that I can remember that there is a major candidate on the ballot in a national election who was actually officially found to have used her office for illegal purposes. It would be like Richard Nixon running for VP in 1976. Can you imagine? And some people are still planning to vote for this trollop!

I guess none of these people listened to their hero George Bush when he said, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me... can't get fooled again."

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Most Amusingly Misunderstood Rock Songs

Have you ever seen a TV commercial using a song that made you laugh because you knew its message was so completely wrong for the product it was being used to sell? Or even funnier, that it was actually celebrating illegal activity? I'm sure we all have, yet somehow these guys on Madison Avenue keep licensing songs that are just completely inappropriate. Here's a list of some of them - along with a few other songs that have been jacked for non-commercial uses completely opposite to their intent. I'll bet at least a few of them you didn't know about before.


BOW WOW WOW - I WANT CANDY


The (mis)understood meaning: I want candy!

The real meaning: I want sex and/or drugs!

This one's probably my favorite, simply because it's often used to advertise to children. So wrong!

The original 1965 version, by The Strangeloves, was clearly a song about sex. Remember, this was 1965 - you didn't just come right out and say it back then. "Candy" was a euphemism for bumpin' uglies. Read up:
"Candy on the beach, there's nothing better
But I like candy when it's wrapped in a sweater
Some day soon I'll make you mine,
Then I'll have candy all the time"

By 1982, times had changed and everybody assumed that the version made famous by Bow Wow Wow (as seen above) was now referencing drugs, specifically coke. That may or may not have been the intent, but it's well-known that sexy little Annabella Lwin and the rest of the band were heavy drug users early on.

In either case, they certainly were not after "candy", as in the sugary food item you buy at grocery store checkout counters.

The song appeared in a 1990's Pringles ad, as well as an episode of "The Simpsons". It seems to be in about ten different local ads in my area at any given time. It was also on the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette", which is surprisingly a lot more befitting.


LOU REED - PERFECT DAY


The (mis)understood meaning: It's a perfect day.

The real meaning: It's an awful, awful day.

I saw this one in a car commercial, used without irony to illustrate a "perfect day" of bright sunshine and blue skies. Ha!

Lou Reed intended it as a sarcastic song about a relationship gone bad. "You just keep me hangin' on". "I thought I was someone else, someone good". "You're going to reap just what you sow." These sound like words about a sunny day to you?

The song appeared in one of my favorite films, "Trainspotting", to illustrate a heavy hit of heroin. Now that's a pretty perfect use of the song. Not a fucking car commercial.


JOHN LENNON - IMAGINE


The (mis)understood meaning: Down with war!

The real meaning: Up with Communism!

This one's misunderstood both in the commercial world and among the masses.

Yes, it's a song about peace. But it's really a song about Communism. No religion. No possessions. No countries. No war.

That's the last stage of Communism.

Don't believe me? John Lennon himself called it "virtually a Communist Manifesto".

Communism itself is misunderstood in this country, in that most people only know of the first stage - revolution. But the final stage, once the entire world had converted to communism, was Utopia - government melting away and the world living in peace, as one, in complete freedom. It was a nice idea, but it could never work in practice because of that pesky first stage of violently forcing every other country in the world to go along with the ideal.

I've always thought it was strange that so many companies have been after this song as a commercial jingle for so long, given that it probably would have gotten a company blacklisted in the 1950's.


THE POLICE - EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE


The (mis)understood meaning: I'll love you forever.

The real meaning: I am going to stalk you until you are dead.

I've never seen this in an ad, but it's still so heavily misrepresented in pop culture that I can't not bring it up. "P. Diddy" or whatever the hell he's calling himself these days even sampled it for "I'll Be Missing You", a song that manages not only to be almost completely uncreative, but also gets fundamentally wrong the meaning of the lyrics it lifts.

"Every Breath You Take" is not a love song. It is an angry song from the point of view of a stalker. It is about following somebody around, watching their every move, and not being pleased.
"Every move you make
Every vow you break
Every smile you fake
Every claim you stake
I'll be watching you"

In what sense are these happy lyrics? Hell, in what sense are these even sad lyrics? Sadness is at least benevolent. No, these are scary, angry lyrics. This is a song that's a prelude to violence.


U2 - WITH OR WITHOUT YOU


The (mis)understood meaning: I'll love you forever.

The real meaning: I am going to kill myself.

And if I bring up "Every Breath You Take", I need to bring up this. Because it's a similar deal.

Listen. It's not "I can't live without you". This is not a guy who's just lovelorn for a lost companion. No, it's "I can't live with or without you". This is a guy who's saying "I need you but YOU DON'T GIVE ME ENOUGH." It's a guy who's needy and conflicted to the point of contemplating suicide.
"My hands are tied
My body bruised, she's got me with
Nothing to win and
Nothing left to lose"

Guys, please think twice before dedicating this song to your girlfriend who just dumped you. You may have nothing left to lose, but you've got nothing to win, either.


BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - BORN IN THE USA


The (mis)understood meaning: USA! USA! USA!

The real meaning: This country sucks.

It should be obvious at this point, but you'd be amazed if you did some YouTube surfing and saw the number of patriotic videos still being set to this song.

Hint: this is not a patriotic song.


BLUE OYSTER CULT - (DON'T FEAR) THE REAPER


The (mis)understood meaning: Kill yourself.

The real meaning: Love is eternal, give comfort to the dying.

This is one that even I misinterpreted when I first heard it 20 or so years ago. It's a tricky one, but we have the original source on record to tell us what it means.

And of course, nowadays it's so closely associated with the famous SNL Cowbell sketch that even those who know it well think of it more for comedy than its original meaning anyway.

On first listen, it sounds like a song about suicide.
"Romeo and Juliet are together in eternity
40,000 men and women everyday...Like Romeo and Juliet
40,000 men and women everyday...Redefine happiness
Another 40,000 coming everyday...We can be like they are
Come on baby...don't fear the reaper"

But Buck Dharma, who wrote the song, says otherwise. He was horrified to learn that millions of the song's fans assumed it was encouraging suicide. He says it's a song about eternal love - about not fearing death when it comes, because you'll be together in it. But the song says nothing about killing yourself.

If you listen to the full lyrics, his explanation makes sense. There's nothing there that specifically alludes to suicide. It seems to be a song about a man comforting a woman as she's dying. Very sad, but neither sick nor offensive.


THE ROLLING STONES - YOU CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT


The (mis)understood meaning: You need the product we're selling. And you can easily get it at the grocery store.

The real meaning: The party's over. Also, drugs.

Another song used in a commercial (amusingly, Coke) that's at least in part about drugs. Though mostly, it's about how the excesses of the 1960's had become unsustainable. It's about the party being over. (Also not really a message Coke would want to be sending.)

It's actually got three sections, each about different subjects - love, politics, and yes, drugs. Ironically enough, though, the drug verse does contain a line about soft drinks!
"I went down to the Chelsea drugstore
To get your prescription filled
I was standing in line with Mr. Jimmy
And man, did he look pretty ill
We decided that we would have a soda
My favorite flavor, cherry red
I sung my song to Mr. Jimmy
Yeah, and he said one word to me, and that was 'dead'"

DAVID BOWIE - YOUNG AMERICANS



The (mis)understood meaning: Young people! In America! Fun!

The real meaning: America is a fucked up country.

This song appeared in an ad for Fidelity Investments. All anyone seems to really hear in this song is the refrain - you can actually hear it when people sing along, they go "duh duh duh duh duh YOUNG AMERICANS, YOUNG AMERICANS, duh duh duh YOUNG AMERICANS!!" Bowie sings it really fast, and there are a lot of words in there. It's hard to pick them all out. Fidelity probably chose the song because they thought it gave an aura of retro cool that their 40- and 50-something investors would understand.

They're probably not wrong if that's the case. It's pure beat poetry, straight from the street but fantastically complex. Bowie's got a lot of ideas going on in this song, all related to the angst that was early adult life in America in the 1970's.

Still, I don't think Watergate and a poor economy were the kinds of things Fidelity meant to invoke:
"Do you remember, your President Nixon?
Do you remember, the bills you have to pay
Or even yesterday?"

Not to mention lyrics that today would be considered decidedly politically incorrect:
"You ain't a pimp and you ain't a hustler
A pimp's got a Caddy and a lady’s got a Chrysler
Black's got respect, and white's got his soul train
Mama's got cramps, and look at your hands shake
I heard the news today, oh boy
I got a suite and you got defeat
Ain't there a man you can say no more?
And, ain't there a woman I can sock on the jaw?"

THE CLASH - ROCK THE CASBAH


The (mis)understood meaning: Bomb the crap out of everybody in the middle east.

The real meaning: Don't fight - rock!

Nobody knew what the hell this song was about when it was first released. Seriously - you have to understand that this was the early 1980's. We were at the height of the Cold War - the middle east was kind of an afterthought until the Iran hostage crisis. And afterwards, it was an afterthought again. Nobody cared what some two-bit dictator could do with a few AK-47's. We were all too busy building fallout shelters and practicing hiding under our desks to avoid the blinding effects of nuclear explosions during a massive surprise attack.

Today, this is sort of an unofficial theme song for the US armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nevermind that The Clash have always been a leftist, anti-war band. And nevermind that this is actually an anti-war song. It's about spreading freedom and democracy through music rather than violence. I don't think The Clash themselves knew what half the references they use in the song actually meant, but the point is if you're rockin' out, you ain't fighting.
"The king called up his jet fighters
He said you better earn your pay
Drop your bombs between the minarets
Down the casbah way

As soon as the shareef was
Chauffeured outta there
The jet pilots tuned to
The cockpit radio blare

As soon as the shareef was
Outta their hair
The jet pilots wailed"

NEIL YOUNG - HEY HEY, MY MY


The (mis)understood meaning: Rock and roll will live forever (definitely)!

The real meaning: Rock and roll is dying (maybe).

This is one of the great rock and roll anthems. Along with its acoustic doppelganger "My My, Hey Hey", it's the song that told us that it's better to burn out than to rust, or fade away. It's a song about rock and roll never dying and being here to stay. It's a song that both personifies and celebrates everything that's great about rock music. Right?

Well, not exactly.

See, Neil Young wrote this song when his own sales were way down, when punks like Johnny Rotten were giving up, and a new generation of more corporate controlled music was taking over. The song is more about asking questions than making bold proclamations. Neil was questioning his own relevance, and wondering how rock music would survive when it seemed that everything that could be done in the genre had already been done.

And that defiant line about it being better to burn out than to fade away? Most misunderstood line of all. He's not being defiant there - just the opposite. He's saying that rather than rehash the same stuff over and over forever into obscurity - as he was worried he was doing - he'd rather leave it all out there on stage and then quit. This could have been his swan song.

Thankfully, it wasn't. And maybe it's a good thing that the song was misunderstood, because he needed an anthem at that time in his career.

I gotta say I always laugh a little at the second verse, which I've always thought was just about really bad customer service:
"Out of the blue and into the black
You pay for this, but they give you that
And once you’re gone, you can’t come back
When you’re out of the blue and into the black."

So you buy something, but they give you the wrong thing at the register, and then once you leave the store, no returns!!

No, it's really a verse about "fading away" as an artist after your audience abandons you.

Of course, there's kind of a wounded animal feeling to all these lyrics, like he's lashing out in fear. And he probably was, and his fans - and rock fans everywhere - latched onto that, because they felt the same way. This is a genre of music that's constantly under siege from all sides. So maybe it's a pretty good anthem after all.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Poni-Camp!

I posted most of this on another blog I have, but I've discovered there's not a lot of cross-pollination between them. So it bears repeating here.

This is my favorite band of the next five minutes:


Poni-Camp is led by former guitarist for the all-girl punk band Lolita No. 18 who now goes by ENAPOu, formerly ENAZOu, really just "Ena." They practice that particular brand of upbeat, poppy and uniquely Japanese punk that's about 70% Ramones and 30% cotton candy but that still manages to be closer to the real thing than most modern American bands could ever aspire to. Ena's well-known for having a crazy voice that makes her sound about 30 years younger than she is (even when she talks). Here's a sample of them covering a Snuff tune on the recently released (in Japan) Yowavinalaaaafincha? - A Tribute To Snuff:



Enapou rocks. Here she is in a couple of earlier Lolita No. 18 videos:

Crawl


Rockaway Beach

That is actually Joey Ramone in the video for "Rockaway Beach" - he produced that album for them, shortly before his death. He was a fan.

Actually, the first time I saw Enazou was on this video for a punked-up cover of the 1980's Japanese pop song Nantettatte Idol helping out her friends Ami and Yumi of Puffy. I was interested to learn that that's actually Puffy covering Lolita No. 18 covering Kyoko Koizumi! Lolita No. 18's version is pretty much the same, but with Masayo's acquired taste of a voice subbing for Ami and Yumi's more straightforward vocals.

Enazou left Lolita No. 18 in 2001, seems to have basically taken four years off, then formed Poni-Camp in 2005 and changed her name. She's been around for close to 20 years now. Poni-Camp stuff is kind of hard to find, but - and I can't believe I'm saying this - thank god for MySpace, which has five songs you can listen to. All of them rock! She sings in English, and she sounds really natural doing it.

Some indie record label here has got to pick these guys up.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

A good thing about NYC - Calorie Labels

I've actually grown to hate most things about this wretched city, but one thing I like is that it learns from other cultures and societies. In Japan, Canada, and maybe elsewhere, they list the calories of any particular food item right next to it on the menu (or wherever you're looking at it). New York officials saw this and tried introducing it two years ago, but a judge struck the law down. The city council reintroduced it, though, and one of the arguments they used was that some of the very same restaurant chains whining that labels like this would be too onerous - like McDonald's and Starbucks - do it just fine in other countries. These chains obviously just didn't want us to know how fattening their food is as we stood in line ordering - they'd rather hide that on their web sites.

I actually quit eating the Starbucks donut I used to eat every morning when they started labeling stuff with calories:

480 calories in a plain old donut! No wonder I was gaining weight. Well, that and all the alcohol.

I actually don't really buy any food at Starbucks anymore. Pretty much everything they have is over 400 calories, except for the "reduced fat" coffee cakes (280), the "loafs" (380) and an apple tart that's suspiciously labeled 120 calories. I think this is probably why they're introducing stuff now like oatmeal - it can't just be me that's stopped buying their food here.

My cell phone camera sucks, but here's a McDonald's menu:

On the meal displays, the calories are all on the bottom. I didn't get a good shot of that, but you can see a little more detail of the drinks here:

I don't really believe that "sweet tea" - which is nothing but sugar water - only has 230 calories. But whatever. I wonder if anybody's ever going to sue over inaccurate labeling. It's still cool that it's there, though, and it totally affects what I buy. The night we were at this McDonald's, I was jonesing for one of those angus burgers (or as I like to call them, "anus burgers"), but I changed my mind in the face of about 1,420 calories.

This should be the law everywhere.

The VP debate


The problem with Tina Fey as Sarah Palin is that she is smarter, cuter and funnier than Sarah Palin. But she looks and sounds so much like her that in some weird way, that actually makes Sarah Palin seem less dangerous than she is. (By the way, I see the Republicans and Palin have finally found this year's Willie Horton, which brought me back to reality on the real Sarah Palin.)

But I lol'd at this video.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The best album ever in the world.


I've been listening to My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless" a lot the past couple weeks. Seeing a band live has a way of doing that. But this album never really got old for me, since I first heard it on its release in 1991. It blew me away then and it blows me away today. I never stopped listening to it. And that has only happened to me with a few other albums in my history of listening to music. The Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour". Pink Floyd's "Animals" and "Wish You Were Here". I'm not sure what else.

Critics didn't quite understand this album when it was first released. It somehow got lumped in with a lot of the other shoegaze bands at that time - the UK's influential NME, if I remember right, didn't even review it by itself, instead including it as part of what amounted to a rundown of that week's shoegaze releases. They gave it like an 8 out of 10. Idiots!

Its stature has grown over time as critics have realized just how influential it's been. Everyone from Robert Smith of The Cure to Billy Corgan to all the members of Radiohead have cited it as a major influence. I started seeing it pop up in "top 100" lists of the 1990's when those started appearing. Rolling Stone had it on theirs, I remember that, and pretty high up. It should have been #1.

There's stuff on this album that nobody had ever done before. Supposedly, and I don't know if this is actually true, but Kevin Shields did things like put the tape of the guitar tracks in an overnight bath of mild acid, then stretched it out and played it backwards on one track. That may be an urban legend but it's completely believable. Because of his perfectionism and all the techniques he had to invent to get the sound he wanted, the album took two full years to record in 19 different studios.

Despite all that, he insists that the majority of the album was recorded with just one or two guitars and no common "shoegaze" effects like reverb, echo or flanger (he did use reverse reverb). The ghostly, weird sound MBV is known for is achieved mostly through the new way he came up with to use the Jazzmaster tremolo.

What's so amazing is how the album plays like a full frontal assault, but still manages to be melodic, ethereal and beautiful. A big part of that is Bilinda Butcher's vocals, but it's true of the songs Kevin sings too. These are, underneath all the noise and distortion, just really great tunes.

I've posted some of these in other posts before, but I'm collecting all the official videos that exist for the album here plus a couple of decent unofficial ones:

Only Shallow


Soon


Sometimes (unofficial video)


To Here Knows When

Whenever I hear Bilinda sing "come back again... to here knows when", it almost makes me want to cry. It's the way I feel about them. I'm such a fanboy.

AHHHHHHH!!!!! A professionally produced live video of the same song from just a couple months ago! (I just found this, I'm excited.)

Beautiful.

Normally I'd advise anyone who doesn't own this CD to run to their local "record store" (we used to have those!) and not leave the premises without a copy. But Kevin Shields is remastering the album and re-releasing it as a 2CD set (one the old version, one the new) on November 3. No pre-order page up at Amazon yet - I'll link it here when there is.

By the way, when they release a new album, I'm betting it debuts at #1. Their fan base seems like it's grown exponentially over the years, despite their nearly two decade(!) sabbatical. And we are all just indescribably fucking happy to have them back.

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.

About Me

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I'm married. I like to travel. I have no kids. I have a house... that I'm bad at maintaining. I used to collect classic video games. I own a lot of musical equipment that far outstrips my ability to use it. When I was younger, I was in a band. I like gadgets, and I'm an Android guy. Someday, I would like to live on a different planet.

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