Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Best and Worst of 2007

I'm a little late, but picking up where some other blogs I read left off, this is my best and worst list for 2007. This is mostly random stuff I liked and disliked from last year, either new for 2007 or just new to me. In no particular order! Though I'm writing things as they come to me, so I guess there's probably some subconscious favoritism going on here.

Favorite things of 2007:

1. Paramore - RIOT!
I'm serious - I love this band. I really can't say enough good things about them. John Mayer called Hayley Williams "the great orange hope" and he's right. She's got everything - she's cute, she's smart, she's wise beyond her 19 years, judging by interviews like this one she seems like a pretty nice person, she's got her own style, and she's got a huge voice. The rest of the band is no less talented; there is some great guitar work on this album, and the songs! The songwriting - assuming you're at all into this whole poppy punk emo-ish thing they do (and maybe even if you're not) - is as good as the genre gets. The last line of the album is "we were born for this", and no one could argue with that.

2. Legal absinthe.
And I don't mean absente, I mean the real stuff. I can't say I've managed to make myself like it yet - it tastes like extremely strong, alcoholic licorice (yeah, I know how to make the louche), but it's more the idea of it that appeals to me. Down with prohibition!

3. Blu-Ray.
I bought a 1080p HDTV this past year and a PS3 to go with it. The jury's still out on the PS3 as far as games go, but Blu-Ray movies have been universally stunning. Even old ones like Blazing Saddles look unbelievable - it could have been shot yesterday. Most movies don't look this good in a theater, what with the lack of care most theater owners put into the experience these days. With HD-DVD on death's doorstep, I'm now pretty confident I made the right choice in which format to support.

4. PUFFY - Honeycreeper.
It's not actually my favorite album of theirs - it's heavier and less fun than most of their releases - but it's still better than almost anything else that came out last year. After 11 years - an eternity in Japan - they still know how to churn out those catchy tunes, even with an all-new slate of producers and songwriters working with them. Should be getting a US release in 2008.

4a. My PUFFY autographed t-shirt. A guy out west was nice enough to pick me up a t-shirt at PUFFY's concert in Anaheim, and on his way out, he actually met the girls. He asked them to sign the shirt he bought for me, and explained to the girls who I was and that I run a fan site. So I've got my very own personalized PUFFY autograph, signed in pen. I won't even take it out of the envelope it got here in.

5. My Fender Jazzmaster.
This is the first real electric guitar I've ever owned, and it's perfect. Well, except for all the little parts I'm planning on replacing, but then that's just what guitarists do to their guitars. I still love it; it's beautiful, it sounds great even with the stock Japanese pickups (which don't have the best rep) and it *feels* like a real guitar, not like one of those crap shredmaster metal guitars. Best part is I can pretend I'm Kevin Shields.

6. Kimura Kaela - Scratch.
Kaela's the top rock star in Japan right now, and this was the first album of hers that I picked up on my last visit there. She really has no US equivalent - the closest would probably be Avril Lavigne, but Kaela's so much less annoying, so much smarter, and she's also not a complete bitch. (In fact, she's not even a partial bitch.) Her music ranges from rock to pop punk, and most of it is catchy in the way that only the best Japanese pop songs ever are. I was singing my way through this album for months without even knowing what the words meant.

7. Home Improvement.
No, not the dumb 1990's TV show... my actual house. We bought this place two years ago and unbeknownst to us, it was kind of a dump. The previous owners were weird; they did maintain a lot of things and replaced them when necessary, but then other things they just let go for probably 30 years. So we saw the new furnace and water heater, the nice floors, the working fireplace, and we sort of figured they were conscientious and took care of everything. I didn't even think to check things like the windows or the chimney or the porch floor. (Yes, we had an inspection, but I was sort of blinded by love for the house by then and he didn't really say anything was crucial, he just wrote comments on his report like "anticipate desire to update", which sounded like a fun thing!)

Anyway, so we just got done having fourteen new windows installed, that was the big thing last year. Ten of them are wood, so they were pretty expensive and we had to paint and stain them ourselves. (Two we're not even done with yet.) But I didn't want vinyl windows in my living areas. Vinyl's just a code word for "plastic", and all these plastic houses around these days piss me off. Who wants to live in plastic? I need wood. (Insert your own joke.)

We also painted a bunch, installed new flooring in one bedroom (bamboo! Very nice), and got a bunch of new furniture. Still not done yet, but the place is starting to feel pretty livable! And I'm not freaking out anymore about being unable to sell if we have to someday. (Assuming this market ever recovers...)

By the way, I originally had meant to post about some of these things we were doing to the house as we did them, but I kept forgetting to take any "before" photos! So it seemed kind of pointless.

8. Evanescence - The Open Door.
Ok, yeah, it came out in 2006. I forgot before I posted this. But I was still listening to it in 2007! And I also know that this album didn't sell as well as their last one, Fallen. But then, this album didn't have a hit single from the Daredevil soundtrack on it either. It's also in many ways intentionally less commercial - and that's not necessarily a bad thing. There are no obvious radio-friendly tunes here. But there's a lot of depth, and it's an album that gets better the more you listen to it.

I know also that Amy Lee's weight has kind of been increasing a bit over the years (that's an old picture of her at left, when she was thinner), and I hate to say it, but I don't know if that's affected their popularity. You know, like it or not, we're in a multimedia world now - bands are visual these days too, and I don't honestly think there's anything wrong with that. Amy's really not as much of a sex symbol as she was a few years ago, not that she ever wanted to be. But she is an amazing singer and she still has more style in her pinky toe than most people have in their entire body, and I am still a huge fan.

9. Japan. Or at least my latest trip to it. I've been there a bunch of times now - we're basically on pace to go once a year these days - but I still manage to find things to do there that I've never seen or done before. It is my favorite place in the world.

And now, my least favorite things of 2007, again in no particular order:

1. Health problems.
I'm only in my 30's, and while I don't look it, sometimes I feel like my body's just falling apart. Two years ago I had my second spontaneous lung collapse, and now my premature ventricular contractions (which I had when I was younger) have returned. This is a supposedly benign condition that feels anything but. When you have PVC's, your heart tries to insert extra beats between its normal rhythm... and because it can't, it sort of stops mid-beat and then resets. This feels like a "skipped beat", and if you see it on an echo-cardiogram, your heart literally seems to stop for a second. This happens to me about ten times per minute. Yes, it's as awful as it sounds. And it's all the time.

Worse from a health standpoint is that my aorta is dilated, and combined with my lung collapses, my doctors think I might have some kind of connective tissue disorder. They say it's not Marfan syndrome, but it could be something else. In any case, I need yearly tests to make sure my aorta doesn't grow further. If it does, I will need to have it repaired surgically (or I will die, the same way actor John Ritter did), which is not something that sounds like much fun.

All this from a guy that appears outwardly healthy. I am not fat, I look young for my age, I'm tall, I have a quick walk and a normal gait. Again, like John Ritter, who had the same problem. You'd never guess I had any issues at all. But inside, it's like my body's just slowly ravaging itself. Ironically, it was going to the doctor for my "benign" PVC's that led them to discover my aorta was dilated and started them down the connective tissue disorder path. I now have to take blood pressure medication for the rest of my life, I have to restrict my exercise, and I cannot drink caffeine (this was hell at first, but I managed to switch to decaf full time). I can drink a little alcohol because it's actually good for the heart... that's about the only positive thing about all this.

I know anything I write after that is gonna seem trivial (and it is), but...

2. Avril Lavigne - The Best Damn Thing.
More like the worst damn thing! Ha. Ha. Ha.

Little April Levine infuriates me. I think I've decided my hatred for her is really more disappointment than anything. See, I think she actually has a really good punk voice. And I think she can sometimes be kinda cute. She's got real potential. I want to like her.

Problem is, her cheerleader pop music masquerading as punk sucks big donkey dick. A whole generation of little kids is growing up thinking this is what punk sounds like. And worse, she's a first-class arrogant cunt about it.

I actually bought this album for my wife as a kind of gag Christmas gift. She kinda likes her, and she knows I really don't, so it was just one of those little unexpected things and maybe a little dig. Anyway, the version I bought came with a pointless DVD that was supposedly a "making of" documentary about the album. All it really was, though, was Avril sitting there talking about what a great songwriter she is and how she did all the work on the album and nobody helped her. Yeah, nevermind all the real songwriters and producers and musicians that actually played all the instruments and that are all credited as such on the album. She probably thought she did all the work because one day they woke her up to throw down some vocal tracks and then boom, album's done. That's all it takes to make an album, right Avril?

Then she has the nerve to write lyrics like "
Get ready motherfucker cause I'm happening". Yeah, the only thing that's happening is my boot in your face. I mean really, there's nothing wrong with being an arrogant bitch. Johnny Rotten's an arrogant bitch. But he can be an arrogant bitch because he's Johnny Rotten and he's awesome.

Avril Lavigne, you are no Johnny Rotten. Get over yourself.

3. Endless Political Campaigning. Christ, is it only the beginning of 2008? We've got a whole 'nother 10 months of this shit to go? It seems like the presidential campaign started sometime around 1999 and it just hasn't ever stopped. This isn't good for anybody. It's annoying, it's a massive waste of money, it's at best total distraction from actually running the country and at worst it actually influences running the country (as I'm sure it does). It also is what's responsible for the now-perpetual divisions among the population, who are constantly being forced to choose up sides rather than working together to solve problems. Stop the madness! Seriously.

I suggest a system similar to Japan's, where political campaigns are mandated by law to be no more than something like 17 days. That means no stump speeches, no TV ads, no town hall meetings outside of that government-designated window. And guess what? The country's a lot more peaceful and they actually get things done. How do you think they built a massive high speed rail system, for one example? They governed, that's how. They weren't pandering to special interests or worrying about being labeled "liberals" or "soft on terror". They were investing in the future. You can do that when you're not constantly campaigning.

On that note...

4. Endless Wars. Don't think because this is #4 that it's less important to me than Avril Lavigne... I said this wasn't in order. I just don't feel like there's much I can do about this, whereas with Avril, I can just not buy her next CD and make fun of her in the meantime. But I get so overwhelmed and angry thinking about these trumped-up wars that Bush is hellbent on fighting - now he's trying to create a new Tonkin Gulf since his first excuse for war with Iran was shot down (hey, George! It's been done!) I'm sick and tired of this bullshit bloodlust. These are not necessary wars, or guess what? We wouldn't be the only ones fighting them. Oh, say what you want about "coalitions" - we dragged all of them kicking and screaming into Iraq, and now most of them have left or are in the process of doing so. Nobody's going to follow us into Iran, that's for sure. Our credibility is completely shot to shit.

It is amazing to me that some people in this country continue to think that the only way for us to solve any perceived (meaning real or not) problem we have with another country is to go to war over it. War has become our first resort, and we look for ways to justify it. It should be the other way around. If you're in a restaurant and the waiter miscalculates your bill, do you first decide to shoot him dead and then look for other things you can blame him for? That's the kind of country we've become.

5. Missing all my favorite bands in concert/ticket "brokers" (or as I like to call them, scalpers). I didn't go to a single concert this year. It wasn't for lack of trying - I just could never get a ticket. In PUFFY's case, that's because they were playing 2,500 miles away. They only seem to do each coast every other year these days. But in all other cases, it's because these jackass ticket "brokers" bought up all the tickets within the first minute they were on sale, before I could even get to the ordering process. I tried with the Foo Fighters, with Evanescence, with the Police, with Paramore, with several others. You just can't buy tickets at face value anymore.

Some people will say "well, they're only selling tickets at market price... supply and demand, man!" Bullshit. That argument only works when the supply is not so tightly controlled to drive demand, and even then only if your assumption is that the brokers are basically altruistic. They're not. They only care about making the most money possible. Ticket brokers buy up all the tickets and then only sell a few at a time, and they will even hold back tickets altogether to keep them off the market until the last possible minute. They make more money selling 10 tickets at $200 each than 20 tickets at $40 each. Their interest is not filling up the arenas; their interest is artificially inflating prices to make the most money. They're perfectly happy if an arena is half full if it means they can drive up prices to maximize their profit. Meanwhile, 5,000 or more fans might not get to see their favorite bands, though the arena can still claim a "sell-out".

It should be illegal, and it used to be. This stupid idea of deregulating everything under the sun is what broke the system. There's a reason we had those laws in the first place, and this was it. We need laws to protect us from assholes. In fact, that's really the government's most basic job, if you think about it - everything comes down to that. Not protecting us from ourselves; I know the two words can sound similar if you say them fast. Protecting us from assholes.

This is getting long, but I think I'm about done anyway. If I think of any more, I'll post 'em later.


  1. I didn't realize all that ticket broker madness was such a big problem. I live in Virginia where it really isn't a problem. It's not even a big issue in D.C. However, that's a horrible thing to have to contend with. I saw those Foo Fighters at Madison Square tix going for upwards of $300 a pair on ebay!
    I have heard of Kimura Kaela but haven't listened to her music. This year I got into Shiina Ringo because of her "Sakuran" soundtrack. I highly recommend that album, it's a blast.

  2. I'm also such an idiot for leaving Puffy off of my "Best of" list! I'm going to go back in and add that.

  3. I've heard of Shiina Ringo, I'll have to check her out.

    Kimura Kaela is awesome! If you like Puffy, there's no way you won't like her. I also just got her "Live Scratch" DVD and I'm probably going to add that to the list above. I may do a whole post on it.

    I think her first couple albums are not as good as Scratch, from what I've heard from them anyway (though they do have a few great songs each). But Scratch is just great from start to finish.

    Yeah the ticket broker thing here is nuts. I didn't even think it might be a regional thing, but I guess it makes sense that they'd go where the population is. I wish I lived in Oregon or something.


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.


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