Monday, September 29, 2008

Let me get this straight.

So a week or so ago, Bush comes on TV and he's all like "we need $700 billion! Give these dudes on Wall Street $700 billion!" So then John McCain's like "yeah! I'm gonna suspend my campaign and go to Washington so we can do this thing! This is too important to hold a debate! I'm gonna bring people together! It'll be all like a big love-in! We'll sing kumba-ya while we give away your $700 billion!"

So now today, George Bush's and John McCain's bill goes down in flames, with 60% of Democrats voting in favor but only 33% of Republicans. And the REPUBLICANS blame the DEMOCRATS because of some dumb speech Nancy Pelosi made? What?!

Barney Frank, you tell those assholes what's what:

I'm not saying this bill was the right thing to do. But it was a Republican bill all the freakin' way. All the Democrats managed to add was a $500,000 cap on the tax deduction a CEO could take. Boo freakin' hoo. All the rest of that shit that got tacked on? All Republican ideas. And they didn't vote for it because they got their feelings hurt in a speech.

They should be fucking embarrassed for trying to pass the buck on this.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Quote of the day

From Gawker:
Basically we'd like a 9/11 commission thing, here, to figure out what happened when a bunch of career conservative fuckers and their cherry-picked law school moron lackeys ran the country for eight years and basically blew it up, from the inside. Can John McCain race back to Washington and work on that?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Labels Borked... again

So, when you click on one of the links from my post labels, you get a weird RSS comment feed or some shit. No idea why. I think it's something Blogger (as in the company) broke, because the "view post" in the content management interface is doing the same thing and I have no control over that at all. Blurgh.

Not sure what to do, but I'll get it fixed at some point.

UPDATE: I've reverted back from my nice Ajax labels to Blogger's standard buttcracked labels for now. Still not sure what broke, but it seems to be affecting all of my blogs.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My Bloody Valentine @ Roseland NYC 9.22.08

I've only just recovered enough from last night's My Bloody Valentine show to write about it in any coherent way.

I've been a fan since 1990, never got to see them before. Hasn't been an MBV show in New York City for more than 15 years. Didn't quite know what to expect, except that I heard I'd be needing these:

I came prepared. Though they did also give them out for free at the show, which was a definite omen.

I learned last night that you don't so much enjoy a My Bloody Valentine show as endure it. It's a full frontal assault on all of your senses. Like their albums, I don't think most people could even take it. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

The doors opened at 7PM, and I found out just before the show that there would be two opening bands: Le Volume Courbe and Wounded Knees. Never heard of either of them before, so my wife and I did what all the cool kids in New York do these days when they've got time to kill:

We went to Pinkberry. Interesting side note: a lot of people think this place is Japanese, because it's cleanly designed and fresh looking and has green tea frozen yogurt. But it's not Japanese. It's Korean.

Anyway, back on track. Walking around a bit gave us time to check out the back of Roseland. This was one of My Bloody Valentine's semi trucks - they had two of these, plus an ambulance(!), plus a couple of other smaller trucks:

Sorry about the picture quality. I know that was MBV's truck because it says so in the window. Clearly, this is a band to be reckoned with. No expense spared for a group that hasn't released an album in 17 years and has never cracked the top 100!

One thing you have to understand about Roseland is that it's a ballroom, not a concert hall. It's fucking enormous, and it has its eccentricities. This is not my first show there - I've seen the Cocteau Twins twice, Siouxsie and the Banshees once (front row!), and I'm sure I'm forgetting some. I've learned where I have to stand to make up for the horrible room acoustics (hint: they mix for the middle of the room).

But no matter how many times you've been there, you can never account for the fact that they've got a single employee working the merchandise table at a sold-out show:

Waited in that line for more than 30 fucking minutes. And they were sold out of the shirt that I wanted by the time I got up there - before the show even started! (Yes, I still got there before Le Volume Courbe went on.)

The opening bands were okay, but not really my thing. Wounded Knees were just annoying - their sound check went on forever, and then they kept doing more of them in between songs. Everybody just wanted them to get the fuck on with it. That's rock and roll, man - you sound like shit but you just keep playing anyway. The highlight of their set, though, which was sort of given away by the fact that he set up his own equipment beforehand, was Dinosaur Jr. frontman J. Mascis doing a "surprise" jam session with the band:

Never let anybody tell you that a Jazzmaster isn't a lead guitar. Wimps.

MBV finally went on at around 10PM. Here's the official set list, as transcribed from this photo:

1. I Only Said
2. When You Sleep
3. You Never Should
4. When You Wake
5. Cigarette
6. Come In Alone
7. Only Shallow
8. Thorn
9. Nothing Much to Lose
10. To Here Knows When
11. Slow
12. Soon
13. Feed Me With Your Kiss
14. You Made Me Realise

As you can see from the photo linked above, they entertained the idea of playing "Sueisfine" and "Blown a Wish" as well, but my brain was honestly too scrambled at the time to remember whether or not they actually did.

The first thing I noticed was that this was like being in a time warp, and in a good way. There was nothing nostalgic about this; this was not a "reunion". This was not a throwback to some bygone era. This was not a cash-in on previous goodwill. This was an indie rock band in earnest, and everything they did was just like it was 17 years ago. From the t-shirts they were selling to the song selection to their stage manners to their light show to the fact that they sold out two shows in a row at New York City's biggest non-arena concert venue. Not every band could pull this off, but MBV were ahead of their time in 1991 and they are still ahead of their time now. The world hasn't caught up to them yet.

The second thing I noticed was that it was loud. In the middle of the room at Roseland, you get the full force of both the Marshall stacks on stage and the PA system. And they had clearly maxed out both. Yes, I used my ear plugs. I'm not a suicidal idiot. I feel sorry for anyone who didn't. People, let me make this clear to you: there is no shame in wearing ear plugs at an MBV show. You're not a pussy if you do it. As the signs all over the place at the venue plainly state, MBV themselves recommend it. And almost everybody heeds that advice.

Those who don't are not acting in their own self interests. Or even rationally, for that matter.

Even with ear plugs, they were freakin' loud. I thought they sounded pretty good, though - I've heard from some others who didn't, but I hear that about every Roseland show. I really think it just depends on where you are in there. The place is like a giant cave; it's got all sorts of nooks and crannies, a ridiculously high ceiling, and a cavernous, echo-prone space between the front of the stage (where the PA is) and the back near the bar. But they sounded good to me standing near the middle; the guitars sounded full and musical (and distinct - Bilinda sounded clearly different than Kevin), the mix sounded right. Their vocals are supposed to be low in the mix - that's the point!

I'm gonna give you a couple examples of how loud they were. Ok, this was one of the quietest songs they did, "To Here Knows When" (also one of my favorites). Listen to the audio on this video - that's not really the way it sounded, that's static from the microphone in my wife's camera being overloaded:

I've recorded with that camera at other shows and never had that problem.

At the end of the show they did a long-ass literal "wall of sound" - nothing but a continuously building feedback assault. I'd heard they do this but I still wasn't ready for it. At a certain point, I began to quite literally fear for my life. I know from reading other reports that I was not the only one to feel this way. When you start feeling stuff moving around inside you from the sound waves violently pushing through your body, it's natural to get a little concerned. When the floor starts to shake as if in an earthquake, it's natural to wonder if the ceiling - and all the heavy speakers and rigging attached to it - is doing the same thing.

The sonic blast gradually built in intensity and it never stopped building in intensity. I wondered when somebody was going to switch it off out of a sense of mercy - surely this couldn't be allowed! I'm confident it was the loudest thing ever in the history of the Roseland Ballroom. It was like some sort of sadistic scientific experiment.

You want to hear something funny? Just try to make anything at all out here:

It only ended when Debbie Googe's amp blew. Seriously - they were apparently loud even for them!

By the way, did I mention they were loud?

Kevin walked over to Debbie and Colm to see what happened and apparently figure out if anything could be done, as Bilinda continued chugging away on her own. Kevin rejoined her eventually and they went on for about 2 more minutes before ending the show apparently a bit earlier than planned. And thankfully so! I don't think I could have taken much more.

Don't misunderstand! I loved it. It was an experience. Seeing an MBV show is like watching a David Lynch film. It's a direct challenge to what you should expect from a rock concert. It is not entertainment; it is something else, and I don't know quite what. Art yes, that's a given - it's still mostly music, and great music. But something even beyond that. There are interesting things in the world beyond art.

If I was disappointed in anything, it's that they left off a couple of my favorite songs - "Loomer", for one, and "Sometimes". Oh well.

I have to mention their guitars too, being a guitar geek watching a band of guitar geeks. I've said before that MBV is who turned me on to Fender Jazzmasters, and that Bilinda Butcher's candy apple red Jazzmaster specifically is what convinced me to buy my own in that color (I'll get around to replacing the pickguard one of these days). Well, she doesn't seem to have that one anymore, unfortunately, but she's got some other sweet little things, like these custom Mustangs in red sparkle and white sparkle (both with Jazzmaster tremolo units, and one with a hollow body!). I'm also a big fan of her Charvel Surfcaster. (She played plenty of Jags and Jazzmasters too, switching almost every song.) Kevin played nothing but Jaguars and Jazzmasters, in various colors and styles. At one point he wielded a purple sparkle model - obviously "a" J. Mascis signature model, but possibly even "the" J. Mascis custom shop guitar owned by the man himself.

Pro Tip: most of the links in the paragraph above go to flickr photo sets from various recent MBV shows. Check out the whole set if you want, not just the individual photos.

Another thing that sucks about Roseland is that it takes about 25 minutes to get out.

I've heard that Kevin's got his head in a place now where he really thinks they're finally going to finish their "new" album, which has technically been in the works for 16 years now. This band never actually broke up. Like I said, it's not a reunion, just their first tour in a long time. So maybe they'll finally get in the studio and get some work done. After this show - which felt like picking up right where they left off - I've got reason to hope.

I have been assaulted

by My Bloody Valentine. Holy hell on a pogo stick. That was a show I'll remember, in a lot of different ways.

Too tired to write much about it now and I've got work tomorrow. I'll do up a full report later - complete with video accompanied by audio that's completely unintelligible. Tonight, this band cemented their place as one of England's loudest bands.

(That's a reference, before you point out to me that half the band is originally Irish.)

To those going to tonight's (9/23) show, or any MBV show in the future, WEAR YOUR EARPLUGS. They hand them out free for a reason. This is no joke.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

And I can see Russia from my house!

In case you missed it, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin. I know, I'm obssessed with this woman. (Tina and Sarah!) This is so perfect, I don't think I'd be able to tell the two apart.

Fender 50th Anniversary Jazzmaster Concert Report!

Last night was Fender's 50th Anniversary Jazzmaster event at Knitting Factory in NYC, featuring Tom Verlaine with Jimmy Ripp, Thurston Moore with Lee Ranaldo, Nels Cline, and J. Mascis with "special guests" Edison Glass and Norton Wisdom. Somebody at Fender these days is clearly a Jazzmaster fan. A big a turnaround from 15-20 years ago, when they were trying to pretend these guitars never existed.

The exciting stuff first: those two guitars up there on the left? Those are prototype Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore signature Jazzmasters.

I didn't get to talk to the Fender guy so I don't know if these are going into production, but they were there along with the rest of Fender's current US lineup, which also included the J. Mascis signature model, the Elvis Costello signature model, the Classic Player Jazzmaster and the American Vintage Reissue Jazzmaster (not pictured, off to the right).

The Lee Ranaldo model is a Jazzblaster with wide-range humbucking pickups and simplified electronics - no tone control or rhythm circuit. (I think this would be the first Jazzblaster Fender has ever produced, if they do produce it.) The Thurston Moore model's got traditional pickups but the same simplified electronics. And check out those funky finishes and colors. I honestly don't even know the rationale for those colors - I've never seen Thurston Moore wield a stained green Jazzmaster in my life. (Update: he apparently has in shows over the past year or so.)

The show was sold out, and it was great. As you'd expect from a Jazzmaster concert, the focus was not on who could play fastest or who had the most "chops", it was fully on creativity. And these guys are all legends for inventing sounds and techniques that nobody had ever heard before.

I gotta say I had to leave a little early - the schedule was pretty grueling and we just couldn't stay for J. Mascis. The dude wasn't even scheduled to go on until 12:30AM! But we did see everybody else.

The Knitting Factory is a cool venue because the main hall is really small.

Edison Glass
I gotta give some props to Edison Glass, because I doubt anybody else is going to. They were the one new band of the night - everybody else was a big, well-established artist. But they were good, melodic indie rock, and they played well. We were so close and they were so loud that I thought I was gonna blow out my ear drums, but I survived it. They played a mix of American Vintage and Classic Player Jazzmasters and Jags - first time I've seen the Mexican offsets on stage. The dude on the left had some trouble with his Mexican Jazzmaster (he played one later in the show) - the bridge pickup cut out about 10 seconds into his first song with it.

Tom Verlaine with Jimmy Ripp
Tom Verlaine and Jimmy Ripp were up next, and they set the tone for most of the evening. The only featured artist who played with an actual band was J. Mascis (so I've heard); everybody else played sans rhythm section and chose to make a sonic landscape. I thought it was great, because I've never really been to a show like that. Verlaine and Ripp played a pretty ethereal set - half an hour continuous, alternately soaring and settling back, which I guess is the style they're known for. Verlaine played "lead", without much in the way of obvious effects, whereas Ripp had all sorts of delay and reverse reverb going on.

Both of them played amazing guitars, one of which I found out later was supposed to be given away in a drawing but wasn't. Grr! Verlaine had a black Jazzmaster with a gold pickguard and all black plastic parts. Ripp had the giveaway guitar - a sunburst JM with gold pickguard and black pickups. Both looked like custom shop guitars, probably given or lent to them for the evening.

Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo
The first thing Lee Ranaldo did when he sat down was whip out his iPhone. For a couple of minutes, a lot of people actually thought he was tuning his guitar with his iPhone! He was actually playing some sort of recording through his guitar pickups. He and Thurston put on a noisy set, though it wasn't all as noisy as the video above. Parts of it were fairly quiet, and like Verlaine and Ripp's set, it rose and fell in intensity several times. But Thurston did go nuts a couple of times. Moore and Ranaldo showed us all why they're the masters of feedback. It's not simple noise they're making, it can actually be pretty musical, the sounds they get out of their amps (when that's what they're going for). And it's really interesting to watch.

Not everybody gets this kind of thing. First of all, you did kinda need to be there. Second of all, you do have to sort of open your mind up as to what "music" really is. I wish I had a video of some of the quieter, more melodic parts of this performance, though - some of their sounds gave me chills. (And I swear, they came damn close to finding the mythical "brown note" a couple of times.)

Both Thurston and Lee played their own guitars. Unfortunately, something in Thurston's setup broke about 20 minutes in and he had to quit. The sound just cut out. He was obviously pissed, flinging the cord out of his guitar and banging the top of his amp. I thought for a second that he was going to smash his guitar or throw it off the stage or something, but he's not stupid. He was visibly angry, though. But he gave a little smile and shrug to the crowd before leaving, so he wasn't like one of those asshole rock stars who project their anger onto the audience when stuff goes wrong.

Nels Cline with Norton Wisdom
This was actually pretty transcendent. Nels Cline went on a little early because of Thurston's mishap, and we actually missed the very beginning of his set - we were still hanging out outside waiting for his scheduled time when I heard what I thought was music. I really regret that now, because I wanted his set to go on a lot longer.

Nels performed with artist Norton Wisdom, apparently not for the first time, but I've never seen anything like this. Norton Wisdom is an amazing painter, at least in terms of his process, and he made at least three distinct paintings on the same canvas as we watched. There is something completely hypnotic about watching him paint - it's almost like watching animation. He takes a completed painting, erases part of it, paints new stuff on top of other stuff and all of a sudden, it's something completely different. Then he does the same thing again.

As he painted, Nels played along with what he was seeing, improvising based on the mood of Wisdom's piece. It was really beautiful, a soundtrack to the process of painting. Some of his set was beyond any sound you'd expect to come out of a guitar, even employing a voice box of some kind that he'd use to scream into his pickups every once in a while. He did have a technical hiccup near the start of his set that basically killed all the loops he'd created to that point, but it was forgotten just seconds later. Nels' set was the highlight of the show for me.

Nels supposedly played his own guitar like Thurston and Lee, but I didn't see it - since he was watching the painting, he more or less had his back to us the whole time.

Unfortunately, that was our night! If you want to hear about J. Mascis' set, you'll have to find another report elsewhere. I did get to stand next to him for a while outside the bathrooms, if that counts for anything.

I was hoping they'd had some cool merchandise for sale at the show, but all they really had was a bunch of Edison Glass stuff (and I wasn't really prepared yet to actually shell out money for them), then some posters and prints of this image that Fender had made up. It was raining, though, so I didn't really want to deal with taking one home. We did snag a couple of picks out of the pick jar, but I don't think there's anything special about them.

It was a great night and a lot of music for just 20 bucks. And it really just goes to show how amazing any guitar can be in a creative person's hands. It would have been nice if they could have found a female Jazzmaster player or two, but I honestly can't think of many myself.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Barracuda - WTF?!

Did the Republicans even bother reading the lyrics before stealing it as their theme song?

"If the real thing don't do the trick
You'd better make up something quick"


Reminds me of when Ronald Reagan used Springsteen's "Born in the USA", apparently not realizing that it's an anti-war song critical of the government.

Heart's "Barracuda" has always been one of my favorite songs, since I was a kid. Let's take it back! Ann and Nancy want us to.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Thoughts on September 11

It's been seven years today, but this is the first time I've really written about 9/11. It never seemed appropriate before.

What's changed now is just the passage of time. There comes a point when things are no longer so immediate, and when you start to think of events as part of the past. I'm at that point now.

I grew up with the twin towers; I've known them all my life. I worked across the street from them for several years. I used to buy batteries at the Duane Reade inside the mall at the towers' base. I used to buy books at the Borders there. I took this photo from the roof of my old office, and I've always liked it:

I was in the city on 9/11, in my apartment in Woodside, Queens, with my then-girlfriend (who I married two years later). We had an unblocked view of the twin towers a couple miles away. I was getting ready to go to work, watching our local cable news channel New York 1 as always. My girlfriend was getting ready for school. We had just come back from Japan about a week earlier.

I clearly remember Pat Kiernan breaking into the taped NY1 feed to tell us about "some sort of explosion" at the World Trade Center. They then cut to the live video and it didn't look real. It was one of those things that your mind just isn't prepared to see, so it doesn't believe it. I had to look out the window to confirm to myself that this wasn't some kind of CGI effect. But I could see the size of the hole plain as day even from that distance. Somehow, I had not heard the explosion.

Excuse the quality of some of these pics - they were taken with a 1.2 megapixel late-90's digital camera.

I remember looking outside and seeing it was a beautiful, clear day and thinking that this couldn't possibly be an accident. One of my little quirks is an obsession with plane crashes, and I could think of no situation in which an airliner could crash dead center into a large building without a pilot's input. See, planes don't just fall out of the sky intact and upright. They crash sometimes, but it would be a trillion to one stroke of bad luck for a plane to spiral completely out of control dead center into Tower 2 of the World Trade Center.

I thought it might have been a suicidal pilot, like EgyptAir flight 990.

I watched the second plane come in, first out my window, then on TV. I was not completely surprised when it hit, like everybody else was. I saw it coming, and I immediately put it all together. Partly survival instinct, I guess. I watched the explosion first on TV, then out my window. I remember not really wanting to see it in person, so I watched the plane actually hit on TV.

I remember standing in the middle of our living room - not sitting, standing - for about ten minutes, alternating between watching TV and looking out the balcony window. At a certain point, I decided we had to get out of there. Not because we were all that close to the towers, but because I couldn't bare to see any more. My girlfriend wanted to stay and see the news, but I just couldn't. I felt like I was about to go into shock, and I needed to just block it out. And I had a feeling those buildings were not going to stand up.

There was also the fact that we were on a LaGuardia Airport landing pattern, and I knew they'd be getting the area's remaining planes down quick. And a thought crossed my mind that if another one of these guys was out there, who's to say he wouldn't crash his plane at the last possible minute into whatever happened to be in his path? At that point, every airplane seemed like a potential weapon to me. And for all I knew, this could be just the beginning. (To an extent, it was.)

As soon as we left, the first tower fell. I heard it on somebody's car stereo outside. Everybody was out, though they were all just standing around and listening to radios or watching portable TV's. We kept walking, away from the main roads, and as we did I could see a massive cloud of dust forming. It was a strange sight, because off the main roads all was quiet, and it was a beautiful day, and we were surrounded by plain, normal houses. You could look left and think it was any other day. Look right, and it was bedlam happening. It was unbelievable, the size of the dust cloud. It looked like somebody had set off an atomic bomb.

We ended up on Northern Blvd., where dust-covered people were already streaming over the bridge and into Queens from Manhattan. We also passed a fire company that was suiting up to get ready to go in. One of the firemen was out on the sidewalk, half-dressed, just looking at the dust cloud as he prepared himself to go into it.

We walked as far away from Manhattan as we realistically could, then settled into a diner to wait until everything calmed down. That was another bit of weirdness, the fact that they were still serving food, and that we actually ordered some. I think I got pancakes. I was craving normalcy at that point. We did try to call some people to tell them we were okay, but our cell phones were out - the main transmitter was on top of the twin towers. I was able to use the internet and follow the news that way, though. I saw in the diner that both towers had fallen by then, and heard about the Pentagon and Pennsylvania.

Eventually, the pay phone was free and we made some calls. My girlfriend called her family in Japan and they told her there were rumors there of 11 more hijacked planes in the air. There were all sorts of rumors that day; there was so much confusion. We didn't know what to believe.

We stayed there for about three hours. By the time we got home, we had no view of the towers anymore. There was just a column of smoke. We turned on the news and saw the replay of the collapses, and we were shocked by the images. As we watched, planes were still flying over us as they landed at LaGuardia. I saw F-15's circling above.

The thing that's going to be hardest to convey to future generations is the way the city felt for a long time afterwards. The city was so quiet, and had so few people in it... and it smelled really bad. It was a metallic smell, and it was all over. The only sound from above was the distinctive roar of fighter jets - they don't sound like airliners. At first it was scary - this is a major city in America, being protected by fighter jets. But eventually it became comforting, and we were sorry when they left.

The fire lasted for months, and every night I came home to that same column of smoke dominating the sky. It was strange learning to live with that.

Sometimes the smoke would blow right at us, sometimes it went more west. It just depended on the wind.

Everybody was afraid. And not in the way people are afraid now, the kind of a dull fear that's almost become part of our daily programming, I mean jumping-at-shadows afraid. You could see it on people's faces. Whenever the subway would lurch to a halt in the middle of the tunnel under the river, we would all stop whatever we were doing and look at each other, as if we were taking stock of who was in the car with us in case the tunnel suddenly blew and we all drowned. I hated that ride under the water, whereas I never gave it a thought before. Everything we did, we thought of ways somebody could blow it up.

When the airliners finally came back and one would fly overhead, people would turn up and look. Planes always fly in view of Manhattan - it's not new. But suddenly everybody noticed. I myself couldn't stand living under the landing path to LaGuardia anymore. Airplanes felt evil to me. They still do. Of course, in November - only 2 months after 9/11 - an American Airlines A300 crashed after takeoff from JFK. I still remember my girlfriend waking me up to tell me about that too, her voice shaking a little bit.

I found out several years after 9/11 that one of my oldest friends lost her mother in the attacks.

I went through a period of intense fear followed by a period of intense sadness and then intense anger. I remember crying like a baby during that telethon that was on a few weeks after the attacks. But then I remember being out with my girlfriend and one of her Japanese friends one day shortly afterwards, and her asking me if I thought there was going to be a war. I remember telling her pretty matter-of-factly that yes I did. She was shocked by this. This is an American way of thinking, I guess, that just doesn't translate everywhere. But even I thought this was just too much, that we needed to make these people pay.

A lot of people expressed themselves in different ways shortly after the attacks. I took these photos right around the WTC site in the days afterwards:

In the next photo, you can actually see some of the dust and papers from the towers that have gotten inside the glass of this jewelry store:

The photo below is really one of the only pictures of the actual destruction that I still have. I had more, and better ones, but I can't find them now. When we first went down there, the debris pile was still there and it was about ten stories high.

You see that black building down there with the pieces hanging off of it? That building was this:

I took that photo about 2 years previous.

When we first approached the site, this building actually filled our view. (We were a block or two over from the photo above.) It's a total cliche to say this, but it really was like a movie, the amount of destruction, and seeing this massive building looming ahead, still intact but completely gutted and broken. It was like being in a city that was dead.

Since 2001, I've seen 9/11 corrupted, abused and exploited in ways both small and large that, frankly, piss me off.

First, I get annoyed when people say "ground zero". I don't think many New Yorkers use that term. I first heard that from one of the local news anchors, and it kind of stuck in the media. But I don't hear it very often in real life. "Ground zero" is generic, it could be anywhere. And worse, it defines the place by what happened there, not what it is or what it stood for.

I reject that. I still call it the World Trade Center. Most New Yorkers do. When the MTA said they would not rename the World Trade Center subway station, people celebrated. They did the same when the Port Authority designed a new, temporary PATH station and announced that it would also be called "World Trade Center". The media actually questioned this, as if they thought it was in bad taste. What did they think, it should be called "Ground Zero Station"?

Second, it infuriates me when somebody tries to tell me that 9/11 was any sort of conspiracy. The only conspiracy was between 19 middle eastern men and one asshole leader who wanted to kill as many Americans as possible. I don't even really feel like dignifying these conspiracy theorists with any further rebuttal than that. But suffice it to say that if you do believe one of these theories, there are thankfully plenty of web sites out there that will conclusively debunk every single one of your crackpot ideas, from the theory that the 9/11 planes were actually military tankers and not passenger airliners to the theory that the Pentagon was bombed, not hit by a plane. Every one of these theories is complete bullshit, and you are a moron if you believe any of it.

It's most annoying to me when I hear these things spread by people who don't even live here, whether they're Americans living outside of New York or DC or foreigners. Sorry guys, but you just have no basis for arguing anything. You're in way over your head. You don't know what you're talking about.

Third, and maybe most importantly, it pisses me off to no end when 9/11 is used as a justification for wars that are wholly unrelated in any way, for trampling on the Constitution of the United States, for political points, or occasionally for all three at the same time. But that's a whole post unto itself.

And as with my second point, I find it irritating when people from, say, Alaska claim to know anything whatsoever about protecting us from 9/11-style attacks. You were out shooting wolves from a helicopter in the woods 4,000 miles away from anywhere that day, what the fuck do you know about living through a terrorist attack? Why the fuck do you claim to speak for me? And if you're not speaking for me, who are you speaking for? All those Alaskans in Al Qaeda's crosshairs? (Of course, it pisses me off just as much when New Yorkers exploit the attacks for political purposes.)

And you know what? I don't live in fear anymore. Most New Yorkers don't. And if we don't, then I really don't know what the hell most of the rest of the country is so afraid of these days that they need to keep electing these wackos.

I've been back down to the World Trade Center several times over the years. I'm not religious, but I understand why some people adopted this as a symbol:

The following photo was the last time I was there. It was actually a couple years ago now, and I imagine it looks a little different - but unfortunately, probably not much.

I actually took part in the process from which we ended up getting the design of the Freedom Tower that someday is going to loom over this site as part of the new World Trade Center. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation had a series of both online and in-person forums and polls, and I was actually quoted in their final report. (I still have it - I think the quote they pulled from me was, "Manhattan needs housing, just not here." It was in response to the question of whether the city should consider building affordable housing at the site.)

People still post up remembrances and tributes in the area. Sometimes it's spontaneous. I'm not sure what this was, but one day while I was near the site, I came across a plain chain link fence that had been decorated with hand-painted tiles. I couldn't tell what they were at first.

As I got closer, it became more obvious.

Just a couple more photos and then I'm calling it a night. Sorry, I don't really have the brain space for a profound ending to this post. The attacks themselves were so random that I probably won't ever really make any sense of it, and I've given up trying. So tying everything up in a little literary bow seems almost cynical. In fact, this is the big problem with the two 9/11 movies that have been released so far. There was no real narrative to that day, in that there were no main characters, there was no theme, there was no motive. Just a bunch of crazy fucks hellbent on doing as much damage as they could.

This was a couple months after the attacks:

This was the first "tribute in light":

This is now repeated every year. See the photo at the top, which was taken in 2005.

I do think 9/11 changed me as a person. It obviously affected everybody differently, some more immediately than others. (I was kind of on the periphery of it.) It made me realize how trivial most of our daily lives are. We worry so much about getting to work on time, about money, about what our cars look like, about making sure we've got the latest gadgets. If you work in marketing, you worry about whether your client's logo is positioned a few pixels too far to the left, or whether the models in your stock photos are the right ethnic mix for the target demographic.

All of this seemed ridiculous on 9/11, because it is ridiculous. It's a waste of time. And that feeling has never left me. These days I try to focus on things that really matter, and not the minutiae that we fill our lives with in order to block out the empty spaces that set our minds wandering. I don't mind the empty spaces anymore.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

FRINGE - J.J. Abrams' new series on Fox

I'm a huge LOST fan. I've never written about it here before because I just don't even know where to start. But I'd argue that it's the best dramatic show ever on television.

So I've been really looking forward to LOST co-creator J.J. Abrams' new show "Fringe". It premiered tonight. If you missed it, don't worry - Fox, as usual for them, is reprising it this Sunday at 8PM. There may be some mild spoilers below, just to warn you.

First of all, Fringe is not LOST. In any sense. It feels different - different directors, different producers, different composer. It's not X-Files, either, which is the other show it's been compared to. It's actually a pretty standard episodic cop show, for the most part - at least the first 2/3 of the first episode was. (The airplane scene that opens the show, which was obviously intended to be weird, played more like the beginning of an episode of House.)

All the cop show cliches were covered - the overbearing chief, the rookie cop who breaks all the rules, the partner in trouble, the outsider who can save the day. There's even a car chase *and* a foot chase! And things that go boom!

The last 10 minutes or so was also pretty brain-dead, in that it had at least two big plot twists that sort of rendered everything else that had happened meaningless.

In between, though, there's about 20 minutes that was pretty good - when you start to get the sense that something big is happening that nobody quite understands. If J.J. Abrams is good at anything, it's creating that sense that events are transpiring in this world he has created that are independent of the show and its characters. He seems to start with a big idea, fleshing it out until he's way off onto the periphery - and that's where he sets his shows. The show then is all about these characters trying to find a way in - but for a while, they're sort of fumbling around without even knowing the scale of what they're dealing with.

At the moment, I can't really see how this is going to last - it took us 1 1/2 seasons of LOST, if I remember right, before we even knew what the Dharma Initiative was. It took all of 45 minutes for us to meet "Massive Dynamics", the obviously evil corporate entity in Fringe. Unless this is all a red herring and Abrams has us set up for some bigger surprises, we might already know too much.

Anna Torv is competent as Olivia Dunham, the main protaganist - and she's obviously intended to have that Naomi Watts thing, which she sort of does. (She is actually Australian too.) Joshua Jackson, who I still confuse with Wes Bentley of "American Beauty", is a little too goofy in his role - he needs to be a little creepier. John Noble plays his father, an insane doctor who practices "fringe science" and could save us all, but unfortunately - and maybe this is just me - I again just can't look at the guy and not see Rip Torn. Seriously, they look almost exactly alike. Lance Reddick, creepy guy from LOST, (over)plays the asshole DHS boss barking orders at everybody.

The show's got potential but it's not there yet. Not the same pattern as LOST, which started out with probably the best pilot anyone's ever going to see. But then as I said, Fringe is not LOST, so maybe it'll eventually find itself. (Har har.) I'll keep watching.

Japanese Trains

I miss Japan. I've been going for eight years and I've gotten used to going annually, and we didn't this year. I blame the Bush economy.

One of the things I honestly miss is the trains. That includes the commuter trains, subways and the shinkansen (bullet trains). I might talk about the shinkansen separately in another post, but I've already talked a little about them before.

At home, I take the Long Island Rail Road and NYC Subway every day. Not too pleasant. After riding the trains in Tokyo, I feel like some kind of barbarian leaning over the edge of the platform to see if a train is coming (we have no electronic signs telling us how long the wait is), and our trains are dirty and uncomfortable and about as user-friendly as yellow taxi driver at the end of his shift. And they're always late. On the LIRR, a train is considered on time if it arrives within 6 minutes of its scheduled departure time. In Tokyo, a commuter train is considered late if it arrives 15 seconds after its scheduled arrival time!

Every JR line in Tokyo has its own theme song to let you know when it's leaving. Halfway through this video you'll hear the Yamanote line's music - this line runs in a circle around Tokyo:

The seats in both the commuter trains and the subways are padded and comfortable.

The cars are generally air conditioned, despite what that fan above implies. Some cars have "lighter air conditioning" and others have none, intentionally, for those that don't like it. And there are weirdos and freaks like that in Japan! But they give you that choice, unlike here, where every train is just blasted with frigid air, unless the a/c is broken. Then it's like 140 degrees.

The announcements in Tokyo trains are automated and bilingual, and the English version is spoken by probably the cutest female voice I've ever heard. (Well, second cutest.)

These days, JR and Tokyo Metro have standardized on the same voice for both the subways and commuter trains around Tokyo, though she kinda sounds like she had a cold on the day she recorded for the Yamanote line.

Here she is on the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi line:

Notice how quiet it is even on a busy subway train!

It's convenient how she tells you which side doors will open at some stations (this might be a JR-only thing). On a lot of trains, there are also LCD's throughout the car that show the locations of stairs and exits on the platform at the next station. Here's the Yamanote line again, a pretty good view of the screens:

Of course, the trains do get crowded at rush hour! This video is hilarious:

Honestly, though, it's not usually like that. I've never experienced anything close, and I've ridden the subway at rush hour. It's probably like the New York subway in that certain specific stations get crazy at certain times of day, but most of the system is pretty normal at all times and actually kinda dead during non-rush times.

On the Yamanote line, JR tried to at least help with boarding during crowded conditions like this by having two cars per train with 6 doors per side. You would have known these cars by the fact that they had big signs on them saying... "6 doors". (These are now being phased out so JR can install protection gates at all Yamanote line stations.)

The one thing that annoys me about Japanese commuter and subway trains is that they're built for short people. Look at the photo above - see the handholds? Yeah, they're at about chin level for me. If I'm stuck standing by the door, I get bombarded by these things constantly as the train rocks back and forth.

NYC subway trains are getting a little better:

But come on, it's not even close. Supposedly the NYCTA did visit Tokyo to see what's going on there before designing these new cars, though. But no padded seats, no high-res LCD's and the automated voices all sound unnecessarily aggressive. And we've still gotta all stand on the edge of the platform craning our necks to see when the next train's coming (and they're always late) - they won't have that sorted out for 20 years or more.

Tokyo is still building subway and rail lines. It's amazing to think that New York has been trying to finish its 2nd Avenue line for literally seventy years, but Tokyo has opened at least two major lines that I know of - the Fukutoshin Line and the Yurikamome Line - since 1995. The Yurikamome Line is one of my favorites, as it runs high above the city, then out across Tokyo Bay with great views of Rainbow Bridge, and into Odaiba. Take a ride along:

A pleasant commute is important to mental health. And it's one reason why I'm constantly so stressed out living here.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

This is why you don't use video screens as speech backdrops

I (along with everybody else) wrote about the oddness of John McCain's RNC acceptance speech backdrop the other day. Well, this what happens when you do not consider the millions of Internet users with too much time on their hands:

This convention has just been the comedy gift that keeps on giving.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Hilarious! II - Electric Boogaloo

I'm just gonna keep posting these until they stop being funny. The RNC always brings out the best in The Daily Show.

My favorite part is the "who's really to blame" section. Well, that and Giuliani, who's apparently still running for President of 9/11.


I know it seems like this is turning into a political blog lately (it isn't) - it's just that that's what's in the news these days.

Did anyone watch McCain's speech last night? For a good part of it, it looked like he was standing in front of a weird puke-green screen:

I thought that was an odd choice for what's supposed to be a slick, professionally-run, made-for-TV political event. Especially given that he's had green screen problems before.

Turns out, that's a lawn in front of a building. Someone else took this screen cap - I didn't see this part:

What building is that? It was a mystery for a while, and some thought it was one of McCain's eight or so "McMansions" (he's not sure himself of the exact number he has). That would have been an interesting choice for his acceptance speech, I think - "I accept your nomination, now look at how rich I am! Bow before your king!" But those who know this building in person finally identified it as the Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood, CA.

Walter Reed - now where have I heard that name before?

Think somebody got a little trigger-happy with the Getty Images keyword search? Major faux pas!

This is now turning into a minor kerfuffle. Still playing out as we speak.

Even without the obvious mistake, is that not still one of the stranger backdrops you've seen for a speech? It wasn't any better when the scene switched to an American flag against a blue sky, which just put him up against a blue screen backdrop. Really not a very well thought-out stage. Sarah Palin the night before just went up against an all-black backdrop, which I thought was appropriate on several levels, but also not a message the Republicans would have wanted to send.

btw, this is the picture at the top of right now:

Just sayin'.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

I'm on the job market

I'm officially looking for work. After almost 5 years*, I feel that my time at my current company is most likely coming to an end. It's my decision, but I feel like I've been left with basically no choice.

Here's my resume as a Word doc, just in case you're hiring. Note that I've obfuscated my last name and used my Yahoo email address. You can actually reach me there, I just don't want to put my "real" email address on the web for all to see. I'm also happy to provide my full name upon request.

What sort of job am I looking for? I'm currently a producer of digital media, and I'd be open to continuing down that path. I'm at the senior level in that field, and I currently manage a large corporate web site for a major cable TV channel. I'm at the stage of my career where my experience level in what I do vastly outclasses most of my colleagues'. The lack of recognition for that fact is one reason for my pursuing other opportunities. (I've told my employer this - I'm an honest guy.) Live samples of my work are available.

But I obviously love writing! So I'm considering editorial jobs too, and I used to write video game reviews for a living. My degree is in cinema studies, which is basically the art of writing film critiques. I've managed to apply that to my writing about various other things, including the aforementioned games, various electronic gadgets and other luxury items.

I also love film and still photography, which is one reason why I applied to my current employer. In fact, my ideal job would be film director minus the pressure and stress. Unfortunately, such a job does not exist. I would love to work in film again if it could actually pay my bills. But I'll settle for a stable job for a good company where I can use my creative and management skills to do cool stuff. And where I actually get paid a competitive wage.

I'm currently on Long Island, just outside of New York City. I commute.

* I started as a freelancer with my current employer, which is why my resume shows a date of 2005. That's my date of full hire.

Jon Stewart is the modern day Edward R. Murrow

If the mainstream media is now rolling over in the face of Republican whining and refusing to do their jobs any longer, I guess Jon Stewart will have to do it for them:

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Bloodbath at the office today. Figuratively, I mean, but it's only slightly less bad that way.

I survived, but I've got a lot of open questions right now that will need to be resolved in short order if I'm going to stay.

It's not a very good atmosphere at the moment.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

My Weekend - MOMA and more

Labor Day weekend. Unofficial end of summer. Last weekend to hit the beach.

Unfortunately for me, also the weekend before a rumored round of mass layoffs at my company. Which may or may not involve my job. We'll see. I'm obviously not betting on it, as you'll see, but anything's possible these days. Job security doesn't exist anymore.

Wife and I had originally planned the beach thing. We live five minutes away. But we're still lacking basic equipment like, I dunno, beach clothes, so rather than actually take 20 minutes to go buy some, we just decided to do something else.

That's the Museum of Modern Art. I've been there before but not since they remodeled it. It's all different! I felt like a MOMA virgin again. I remember the last time I went, the whole museum was just a series of small, cramped little rooms. Highly claustrophobic. There's still some of that, but it's a lot more open in general and it has all these little areas where you suddenly find yourself back in this massive atrium. You end up coming back at it from all directions. I don't remember that in the old building. And you can see all the other people doing the same thing in these little cutouts in the wall, which ends up looking kind of like a piece of art in itself.

Not much I can say about the art collection; it's massive and varied, and some of it I get and some of it I don't. I studied art in college so my tastes are no mystery to me. I'm a fan of Jackson Pollock - you need to see his paintings in person. They're very tactile. They're basically process art - you can see exactly how he did it through the layering of paint and other objects. (That's not just paint up there; there's all manner of junk embedded in his paintings, from discarded cigarette butts to house keys.)

I still think it's odd to go to the "design" section of the museum and see stuff like slinky toys and what amount to IKEA chairs sitting in the middle of the floor. MOMA's got a lot of stuff that I really wouldn't classify as "art" and neither would the object in question's creator. Yes yes, I know about "found art" - but "finding" art implies that it was somewhere other than in plain sight all this time. Otherwise you could "find" art in pretty much anything, and I don't really think that's the case. A rock could be art. A dinner plate. A 2x4 piece of wood. There's gotta be more to art than just what a person subjectively "finds" in any given object.

There's a big Salvador Dali exhibition going on right now, which I didn't take pictures of because it wasn't allowed. (There's an online exhibition if you want a look.) I don't usually think of myself as liking Dali - I often think of his work as obvious and a little simplistic in its symbolism - but I've never seen some of the paintings on display right now at MOMA and some of them are quite mysterious. I also didn't realize he did the dream sequences in Hitchcock's Spellbound. They've got a real set background from the film there, and it's quite amazing - about 20 feet high and 40 feet wide, and they've got the scene it was used for running right next to it. I had assumed that these things were always painted in color and then shot in black and white, but no - they painted in black and white too!

After the museum.

This is the scourge of New York City - this roving band of gypsies under the guise of a "street fair". They pop up all over the place in summer, blocking traffic and attracting huge crowds of tourists to quiet neighborhoods. What is there to do at a "street fair"? Buy cheap crap, most of it counterfeit. Cell phone accessories, poor quality t-shirts with dumb sayings on them, fake Gucci and Coach handbags, tube socks. It's always the same junk, too. There's also food, but then there's food everywhere in New York City.

This was kind of interesting:

Never seen that before, although I'm sure it's because I try to avoid street fairs like the plague. I'm sure this guy's been at every street fair ever.

Seriously, New Yorkers hate these things. I don't even technically live in the city anymore and I still can't stand them. When I lived in Queens, I actually took a baseball bat with me one day in case I needed to clear a path to my local Dunkin' Donuts through one of these stupid fairs that was happening on my street. (The bat was for show; I didn't plan to use it.) This one happened to be unavoidable as we went to and from MOMA - I have never seen one shut down such a major avenue in Manhattan before. Well, better there than in a residential neighborhood, where they're usually dirtying things up.

Dinner. Ramen at Menchanko-tei, which is right near MOMA. I got the shoyu ramen this time, which wasn't as good as the hakata ramen, but it was still really good. And they finally have beer! Actually the guy at the front looked at us like we were aliens when we asked about it - I guess they got their liquour license sorted out about six months ago.

One more thing I want to show you:

Bought another guitar. We're sharing this one. The wife wants to learn to play like David Gilmour so she needed a Strat. It was cheap, just $169, but it's actually a really good guitar and it looks pretty sweet too. It's not a "real" Fender, it's a Squier - but I tried out the cheap Mexican Fender Strats and in all honesty this guitar was better. That Chinese labor, I guess - enjoy it while it lasts. They'll start demanding better wages pretty soon, and they probably deserve it.

Well, that was my weekend. Oh, there was other random crap over the three days - regular domestic stuff, nothing worth writing about.

Now to prep for the onset of my six-month long Seasonal Affective Disorder... I'm guessing you'll be seeing fewer updates through the winter.

Oh, the irony

Totally not Photoshopped!

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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