Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"Cure of Despair"


—Burton, Anatomy

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"A few more adjectives"

1. Philippe Vasset, author of the intriguing short novel ScriptGenerator (Serpent's Tail), sent along this article from the August 17 Financial Times (for our "connection" purposes, and with regard to the somewhat illegible blue font, you can skim a bit, then jump to the part in bold):

Computers write news at Thomson

By Aline van Duyn in New York

First it was the typewriter, then the teleprinter. Now a US news service has found a way to replace human beings in the newsroom and is instead using computers to write some of its stories.

Thomson Financial, the business information group, has been using computers to generate some stories since March and is so pleased with the results that it plans to expand the practice.

The computers work so fast that an earnings story can be released within 0.3 seconds of the company making results public.

By using previous results in Thomson’s database, the computer stories say whether a company has done better or worse than expected.

“This is not about cost but about delivering information to our customers at a speed at which they can make an almost immediate trading decision,” said Matthew Burkley, senior vice-president of strategy at Thomson Financial.

“This means we can free up reporters so they have more time to think.”

Mr Burkley said the computer-generated stories had not made any mistakes. But he said they were very standardised. “We might try and write a few more adjectives into the program,” he said.

Thomson started writing computer programs for different types of stories, at a cost of $150,000-$200,000 (£79,623-£106,190) per project, to try to catch up with rivals such as Reuters and Bloomberg.

Thomson has also hired hundreds of specialist reporters to boost its news operations.

Reuters said it automatically generated some stories, while Bloomberg said it did not.

The desire for speed reflects the growth of automated trading. Many hedge funds want direct feeds that can be plugged into programs and used for trading.

Thomson’s automatic stories are being generated mostly in the US market.

2. From my late-breaking, late-summer read:

"Adrian's bewilderment was extreme. It seemed to be his fate today to mix with eccentrics, and in the case of this one, he had no hesitation whatever in discarding the adjective 'genial.' In describing Tubby Vanringham, it was the last word a precisian like the late Gustave Flaubert would have selected." —P.G. Wodehouse, Summer Moonshine

Monday, August 28, 2006

Cat Power

Three weeks...three guest bloggers...but now...I'm back!

[Cue tumbleweed.]

Many thanks to Izzy for kicking it up...yet another notch! (That's right: I was interning with Emeril during my absence from the blogosphere.) And she deserves another salute: In what's easily the most public appearance of The Dizzies ever, Slate's "Today's Blogs" picked up on the Izzmeister's two-cents re that noxious Forbes piece about marrying career women!

Oh, Don Piano: Izz also made the (D)izzies a cat-friendly hangout spot, and with this in mind, I hereby offer three more links for furface fans:

1. A mysterious personage blogs about...her sister's cat, with the sort of twisted brilliance unseen since the photo captions in CREEM. (Humor tip: For extra yuks, click the "About Me" portion, to learn the talented feline's occupation.)

2. Permanent Monday, the Garfield exegesis blog, continues to amuse and amaze.

3. Dizzyhead Hua sent me this video of Cat Power performing "The Greatest" on ex-Squeezester Jools Holland's TV show. (I haven't figured out how to embed the videoscreen here, talking-cat style.) I love how she sort of makes he-man arms as she sings the first line. Also something about her here reminds me of Nico during her dark-haired days. Maybe just the length of the hair. But she seems happier. And has a better voice.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Oh My Radioness

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Oh My Rockness radio. First my work computer got weird and angry when I tried to upload my iTunes library, then my iPod cord disappeared, and then I got sick of Pandora’s crazy taste-math. (How does one song by the Editors plus the complete works of Cat Power equal Mr. Bungle? What are you trying to tell me about myself, Pandora?)

Oh My Rockness appears to add one new song every day, which means the playlist moves at a pretty slow pace. As such, I’ve become particularly attached to the middle of the current mix. The best parts:

Oneida. Up with People. It's twitchy, dancey, anthemic. If they played this in clubs, I would feel less awkward when using “club” as a verb.

The iOs. Neveright. “I never write you love songs, I never write you love songs, I never write you love songs, I never write you love songs”—not a bad chorus for a super-cute love song. This has been playing in my head constantly for the past two weeks. It’s been a good two weeks.

Mixel Pixel. Coming Up Xs. Great songs with the word “radio” in them: All Night Radio’s “All Night Radio.” R.E.M.’s “Radio Free Europe.” Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga.” TV on the Radio is great. “Video Killed the Radio Star” was the first music video ever. And now these guys mention “radio” all over their chorus—which I heard on the radio. Coincidence? I think not.

Blood Feathers. Hide All the Eggs. Oh My Rockness has a quote comparing them to the Byrds. Given a) the band name and b)the title of the song, is it terribly geeky of me to find this comic? In any case, dig those thundering piano chords at the end.

Arms. Shitty Little Disco. So shimmery! So chimey! And it’s by Todd Goldstein, who I know from college. When not being Arms, Todd is also the guitarist from the Harlem Shakes, who’ve recently received a bit of a drubbing in these pages. I can’t comment, having never heard that band (though I do agree that the McCarren Park Pool scene is somewhat depressing). All I know is that my friend Rebecca once directed Todd in a musical—during which he totally stole the show, being a big ham—and she can do the Harlem Shake like no other 4’11” Jewish girl out there. Not sure if that justifies the band name, though.

Adam Green. Novotel. I don’t like silliness in music unless it’s done in a really beautiful way. Straight-up sea shanties by the Decembrists don’t do much for me; sea-shanty-inspired Decembrists songs that sound like outtakes from In The Aeroplane Over the Sea totally break my heart. As such, I’m conflicted about this little number. I kind of wish he’d take the damn rose out from between his teeth, but his voice is amazing.

Better than all of this combined, of course, was John Roderick’s banter at Wednesday night’s 826 benefit. As pointed out by the New York Sun, JR “likened the massive Beacon Theater stage to performing on Agamemnon's barge.” I don’t think any rock star has ever made better banter-use of the word “barge.”

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Public! Service! Announcement!

In order to redeem myself after that shameful bout of catblogging, I'd like to conclude today's posts with a public service announcement. You all might have seen today's heinous Forbes article on why you should never marry a career woman, but even if you haven't, I'm sure you can imagine the content. Marry a career woman, argues Michael Noer, and she'll make you sick, make you miserable, and cheat on you regularly with every guy who walks past her desk.

This is pretty gross, obviously, but what makes me crazy is that it's in Forbes, which is ostensibly a magazine about business. Clearly the Forbes editors understand that there are women in business, because they just ran an article about how nobody should ever marry them. But if Forbes is a magazine about business, and some people in business are women, then why would they run an article guaranteed to insult all women in business? It's kind of like Pitchfork running an article about how nobody should ever marry a girl who likes indie rock. Or like Forbes running an article called "All Our Girl Readers Are Bitter Sluts."

Now, I suspect there aren't too many regular Forbes readers in the audience. But I also suspect that many of the female Dizzies readers do meet Forbes' qualifications for "career women," a/k/a "bitter sluts." So here's my PSA: go over to Forbes and tell them their editorial judgement sucks. The piece is already on their "most popular" list, so there's no point in worrying about giving it more hits. And they should know that although they're getting a lot of attention, this kind of anachronistic nonsense is ultimately just going to hurt their credibility.

The big black cat’s series of lamentations

Strange things about the following video:

1.) The talking cats. Duh.

2.) The fact that every time a cat speaks, everyone laughs, even though none of them ever says anything funny.

3.) The big black cat’s series of lamentations:

“Oh my dog.”
“Oh Long John.”
“Oh Long Johnson.”
“Oh Don Piano.”
“Why I eyes ya.”
“All the live long day.”

Creative writing assignment: Compose a short story using all six of the above phrases. Mine will be about a Venetian gentleman in the 1600s, Don Piano, and his pirate lover, Long John Johnson, who develop the American railroad system while conducting a passionate and clandestine affair. The story takes a tragic twist when Johnson, blinded in a naval battle, accidentally pushes Don Piano’s lapdog into a canal.

Product Placement

Last night, on the way home from a fun-but-air-conditionerless party, the Citizen and I stopped into a bodega to get some water. Among the Evians and Dasanis, one particular bottle stood out. It had a lovely flask shape, like so:

Examining this artifact more closely, we found a small blurb on the back informing us that our new friend Fred had “a blackbelt in hanging out.” As the Citizen pointed out, this is sort of an exhausting concept. You have to work really hard to get a blackbelt. You shouldn’t have to work hard at hanging out. Also: do we really want to hang out with our bottles of water? Aren’t bottles of water for…holding water? (Which, I have to say, Fred does particularly well.)

The bottle invited us to visit the Fredspot, so I stopped by this morning. It turned out to be a “modern trendzine,” not unlike Thrillist or Daily Candy. The current issue doesn’t even mention water anywhere; it’s just about boy things like burgers and sets of brothers who start bands (including, bizarrely, the Ramones). Go back to the inaugural issue, though, and you’ll see that Fred is a bottle of water who likes to take the F train. He also has a Myspace profile, though it’s not populated by too many friends.

If I were a marketing expert, I’d give this whole effort an E for “too much effort” (but an A for “nice try.”) We cosmopolitan consumers are a superficial lot, Fred. We’re not going to judge you by your trendzine or your MySpace profile or your hanging-out skills. We just want you to be pretty — which you totally are. Isn’t that enough?

Also, Fred makes me think of Ted Airlines, the United spin-off that wants to be your bro:

I went to high school with a Ted, a cute boy who dated one of my friends. For Senior Prank ’99, we attempted to park his sea-green convertible in the atrium of the computer lab building. The car turned out to be an inch too wide for the doorway, but Ted spent an hour trying to coax it through anyway, muttering, “It’ll compress. It’ll totally compress.” I liked Ted a lot, but I don’t want him to fly me across the country while plying me with warm cookies and “My Name is Earl” re-runs.

And don’t even get me started on Ed2010. We all know who the real Ed is around here, and it’s not that guy.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The sons of his opponents wish that he was their dad

Two summers ago, I developed a crush on Alexander Hamilton. It had nothing to do with the man’s work, and everything to do with his cheekbones on the $10 bill. Have you ever looked down at a ten-spot while paying for a beer and realized you’re holding the likeness of the cutest boy in the room?

The crush faded, as unrequited love tends to do. But it made me understand exactly what Brad Neely was thinking when he created the brilliant animated video below. America’s founders are totally due for a makeover. And if Hamilton is the pretty boy, the Jude Law of the bunch (like I said: cheekbones), then George Washington is clearly the tough guy, the badass motherfucker — the Samuel L. Jackson, if you will. Dig his gallant stroll:

george washington

A long aside about referencing Samuel L. Jackson

So SLJ is a big American cliché, right? And he’s always been in movies that reference the cliché, like Pulp Fiction, where his character is like one giant knowing wink at ‘70s blaxploitation. But at some point referencing the cliché became a cliché in itself, so that the wink at the ‘70s turned into a wink at winking at the ‘70s. (This transition probably took place in 2000, when he starred in the remake of Shaft.) So when bloggers demanded that SLJ say “I want those motherfucking snakes off this motherfucking plane” in the movie of roughly the same name, they were really asking him to reference the reference to the reference.

As such, while I still think his is the best name to drop when you’re looking for a famous tough guy, I’m kind of baffled by the hype surrounding Snakes on a Plane. (The Citizen and I came across a guy we know biking down 2nd Avenue on Thursday night whopping “SNAKES ON A PLANE! SNAKES ON PLANE!” like some kind of Time Warner-sponsored Paul Revere.) I wish I could share in the joy, but it just takes too much effort to peer through all those layers of ironic distance.

And then this is the other thing: I sort of feel like this entire post is incredibly obvious. Doesn't everyone know that it's boring to see Samuel L. Jackson play yet another badass? Is there something I'm missing? Maybe I'm just not excited enough about snakes. (But if it were Bears on a Plane? With Werner Herzog narrating a la Grizzly Man? And turning it into a story about the eternal struggle between man and nature, at 30,000 feet? That, I'd go see.)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Palace druthers — Beethoven's "Neinth" — Paper late — Are you ready for Izzfest 2006?!

BEST IDEA EVER: Guest blogging!

Many thanks to Hua for an amazing week of posts! Catch up with him at his regular home, the pleasuredome known as the "Palace of Electricity," for his agreeable blend of audiovisual mayhem.

I'm enjoying this guest-blogging thing so much that I want to schedule a month of guest bloggers.
A year?

Thanks to Dizzyhead Dennis for the press release of the week:

COPYING BEETHOVEN - opens October 13th in top tier markets
Anna Holtz (Diane Kruger) is a 23-year-old aspiring composer studying at the
music conservatory in the world's music capital, Vienna. Her great love of
music gives Anna the courage and confidence in her own talent to pursue a
career as a composer in a time when it was virtually unheard of for women.
She is recommended for a position at a venerated publisher, and, in a
fortuitous turn of events, orchestrates an opportunity to work beside the
greatest, most mercurial composer alive - Ludwig van Beethoven (Ed Harris).

Beethoven is skeptical about Anna's abilities at first but, when he issues
an impromptu challenge, Anna demonstrates her competence and musical
insight. The maestro accepts Anna as his copyist, beginning a relationship
that will transform both of their lives. [...]

I stopped reading at "Ludwig van Beethoven (Ed Harris)." (Below: cover art for Camper Van Beethoven's classic Telephone Free Landslide Victory, perhaps my favorite album title ever. Over at Termite Art, a discussion of bad vs. good movie titles.)

Speaking of movies that I'm in no rush to see, here's the description of Paper Dolls:

Throughout the world, struggling people cross borders illegally to find work and make a better life for themselves: Mexicans in the US, Turks in Germany and North Africans in France. But only Israel has a population of illegal Filipinos of indeterminate gender who care for the elderly Orthodox – and for whom they often become substitute children. PAPER DOLLS follows five such men, refugees from families that reject them, who’ve made a home in Tel Aviv, Israel’s most swinging city. Fast friends, they spend their free time on stage, as the drag queen ensemble, Paper Dolls. [...]

I stopped reading at "illegal Filipinos of indeterminate gender."

IV. Next up: Guest blogger Izzy Grinspan! The Izz was instrumental in getting Jewsrock up and running, and has written on everything from Arkansan author Donald Harington to the pleasures of this hot new musical whatsit called the "iPod."

UPDATE: Breakfast of Champions: Over at Return of the Reluctant, the new "Bat Segundo" show features an interview with David Mitchell, in which he's asked about my Voice review of Black Swan Green (alas, it doesn't sound like he's read it) . . . For those of you keeping score, the name of the Bat Segundo show comes from Mitchell's very fine novel Ghostwritten (unless that's a reference to something else as well!).

Friday, August 18, 2006

Run for Cover

After hanging out with some corporate guys in Vegas a few months ago, I came home with this odd habit of proclaiming everything as "the best (or worst) thing ever." Previously, I had been content in simply knowing that things were "cool" or "interesting"--the finality of apex/nadir never really crossed my mind.

I've given this some thought and the list of things to which this description actually fits is both short and indisputable.

BEST BAGELS EVER: Absolute Bagels
BEST TITLE FOR A BLOG EVER: Hot Chicks with Douchebags

We can now add a seventh to this list.


This is some kid doing crunk versions of Radiohead songs. This is even worse than the reggae version of OK COMPUTER (surprisingly listenable) or the hipster-ish Exit Music tribute album. This is some kid doing crunk versions of Radiohead songs.

Admittedly, I am predisposed to disliking this sort of overly clever bedroom remixing thing; that impulse completely overwhelms my normal policy of loving cover versions, alt takes, etc no matter how bad they might be. But this is just terrible. THIS IS SOME KID DOING CRUNK VERSIONS OF RADIOHEAD SONGS. IF I COULD MAKE THE FONT HUGE, WITH SERIFS OF BLOOD, I MOST DEFINITELY WOULD. In the words of Jim Jones, "That's just terrible (cough cough)."

It brings to mind something I remember from Jurassic Park about people doing things merely because they could, not because they should.

A counterweight to all this is Tugboat's 8-bit rework-medley of popular radio hits. Over five or so minutes, Tugboat does these little Atari keyboard versions of T.I., Ludacris, Jay-Z, etc. It's not the BEST THING EVER; he isn't even the BEST TUGBOAT REFERENCE IN POPULAR MUSIC EVER (that honor goes to Galaxie 500's "Tugboat"). But it was entertaining enough to survive my notoriously short attention span. (Credit: Reihan)

Anyhow, I hope I have done the same and survived your short attention span.

For I myself am only an inferior, 2-bit version of Ed.

I am grateful for your hospitality.

I leave you with this photograph of an actual macaca, not to be confused with a South Asian gentleman:

Thursday, August 17, 2006


One more that got dropped from yesterday's line-up:

Crime's "Hot Wire My Heart": MPfree here


All this blogging is killing my wrists. So today's entry will be very brief, scattered and almost adjective-free. Overheard in my notebook, on my desktop, etc...

Glad to report Ed-in-hiding is doing well and wearing shorts.

An odd moment of life/art synchronicity: reaching for my Skor bar during Goodbye, Dragon Inn

Compelling pro-war logic? "“Besides ending slavery, fascism, Nazism and Communism, war has never solved anything.”

From a post-it note:
79 - David Bowie
55 - Lord Finesse
29 - Aphex Twin
(I have no idea what this possibly means.)

From a student paper: "The ironic remove suggested by Eco is both an intrinsic part of postmodernist art and thought and its biggest drawback. Irony allows 'high' art to face and use both the past and 'low' art without being forced to retreat to ever-more-rarefied avant-gardism. However, ironony also leads to the chance that, rather thn, it is possible to understand the game but to not take it seriously, it is far more possible to understand the game and refus to take it seriously. When all sides rely only on irony rather than any other qualities, we end up with The Simple Life being renewed for another season. And nobody wants that."

The worst thing ever: people who reach the bottom (or top) step and then stand there and look around.

"There's just so much to learn. The hard way. Like, they really need to have some kind of breast gauge that tells you if the feeding is going properly. Well, now that I think about it - if babies could talk, that make everything really easy."

The closing line from a Fox 5 location report, circa 2004: “Quintessential Boston Red Sox fans—using city construction materials to play beer pong. Back to you, Joe."

"There are so many kids."
"Too many kids."
"Hey--why does that one have a black eye?"

"Thank you very much, sir. THAT WAS AWESOME. That food was awesome!"
"(something in Chinese)"

From The Squid and the Whale: ""I regret sometimes I wasn't more of a free agent when I was younger."

Ibid.: "It's very Kafkaesque." "That's cause...Kafka wrote it."

"A lot of Peruvian men seem to age into Lorne Green."

Idlewild the movie is a lot better than Idlewild the album, though neither will really explain what Andre 3000 really thinks/wants.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


The Wire on HBO: perhaps the best thing ever--nay, the best thing ever. faith in the possibilities of culture and narrative, rewarded sevenfold! exchange between two honchos of Barksdale syndicate during season three's penultimate hour always makes me wonder about my own life ("Dream with me" ... "We don't gotta dream no more" ... (or does he actually reply: "We don't got a dream no more," as in, the days of shared aspirations, or friendship, are over?))

Further: What does it say about the entertainment industry that much of the acting talent that animates The Wire was largely undiscovered, and continues to draw primary pay from Wire residuals? As in, other than a few bit parts as toughs on Law and Order or toughs on Homicide many years ago, why were these people waiting by the phone? Oddly, IMDB around enough and you will discover that a lot of The Wire's Bodymore, Murdaland residents (sorry) got their start on The Cosby Show, including one Brother Mouzone. He played "Floyd," a bourgie bourgie (cue: Ashford and Simpson) boyfriend to one of the Huxtable girls who was just so damn "Floyd-like" that it made me wonder, at a young age, about the whole sign/signifier thing.

This is probably as good a time as any to link this: "The Cosby Jam (Do the Huxtable)" by Imperial Sounds (opens as rm file, just to warn you)


WIRE, A BAND: An interesting but not quite engrossing story about the making of "I Am the Fly". Call me soft but I love "Outdoor Miner." I always wondered if U2 did anything with "I Am the Fly" when Bono was going through his "ill-advised eyewear" phase--a live cover, maybe? Speaking of eyewear...

1. Snatching Cazals :: Cazal Boys (seminal)
2. Sunglasses at Night :: Corey Hart (bad)
3. Sunglasses at Night :: Tiga and Zyntherius (worse)
4. Stunna Shadez :: Nump (filipino)
5. I Wear My Stunna Glasses at Night :: The Federation (below)

...barbs about punching out Christian Dior frames, copping the newest styles at Dave and Busters, riding around in burnt-orange scrapers and looking like Kool Moe Dee, a bug, or both. Doon shines, bragging about a rare Spiderman-inspired shade frame that’s the color of cayenne pepper. E-40 hogs up a considerable portion of the middle with a so-so clarification that he neither invented the term Hyphy nor started the shades thing.

No mention of wire-rimmed frames, sadly:


THE WIRE: ADVENTURES IN MODERN MUSIC: A magazine that allows Dave Tompkins and I to "just flow, man." We have been there long enough to see seven years, one major redesign, about 200,000 words, eleven totally made-up records and one crazy "HipHop vs. Critical Beats" columnists-on-columnist basketball tournament. (We got dunked on. Repeatedly. Our opponent, the unusually tall (for a music critic) Peter Shapiro dropped the non-essentials from the Wire song, shouted "I FLY" and skied to the rim. I still have a footprint on my chest.)

Not to be confused with...


WIRED MAGAZINE: A magazine that has probably paid me as much as I've earned in seven years at The Wire, only in a micro-fraction of the time. I'm just not sure I'm "on board" with the long-tail thing.


COY WIRE, DB, BUFFALO BILLS: Though he went to Stanford, and thus is the target of my light Cal jingoism, I've always appreciated the oddness of Coy Wire's name. Did his parents name him after the adjective?



Tuesday, August 15, 2006


So yesterday I made light of the fact that I sometimes (rarely) pretend that I don't understand English. This reminded me of a morning I often ponder/paw over, that of 24 Februrary 2003. I had somehow assembled enough press credentials to bluff my way into the morning shoot-around for that evening's Boston Celtics-Houston Rockets game. The yearlong story for the 2002-03 NBA season was the city-by-city introduction of the awkwardly tall Chinese center Yao Ming to the United States, and this game marked Yao's debut in the Bean.

As I approached the Fleet Center, I was on edge. During wartime, immigrants from enemy lands are often pressed to answer the question of who owns their deep-down support: the U.S. of America, or the old country? Usually it is something discussed in private, or in an ethnic studies course; sometimes, unfortunately, it becomes a matter of public record. Anyhow, in my twisted figuration--twisted because, err, we were then and continue to be "at war"--I began wondering whether Yao's presence would influence my rooting interests for the day, and whether I was somehow different from all the neck-craning Chinese/Chinese-American journalists seeking entry to the Fleet Center just to get the scoop on "our guy." The fact that I knew who Taj McDavid was before he devolved into a cautionary tale? This should have set me apart.

Too much text. Here's a picture:

So I get there and take my place in the scrum. There are a few beat writers but most of the press assembled are clearly uninterested in, say, Glen Rice's knee. Rice makes his displeasure known as he scoffs some discouraging words to a trainer standing next to me. I half-want to walk over and offer Rice a pound and congratulate him on that 1989 NCAA championship, but I now fear that he might be racist, or hate the press, or possibly both. (Although, he clearly loves his body...)

There is a Chinese reporter from a local Chinese paper who, upon spying Yao amble out of the locker room toward the court, begins yelling his name. Glen Rice is displeased. I am displeased. I am here for the basketball, the world-historical importance of this trans-Pacific moment; the personal-slash-national pride merely draws the undercard. The media, which is now beginning to resemble a kind of multi-everything, Pequod-ish crew, leave Stevie Franchise and Moochie Norris alone (again, racist or possibly anti-media) and throng our way toward Yao, who stands alongside a short white man. Short being totally relative.

The man is Colin Pine. He has a Wikipedia entry here. Although he is only in his twenties, he looks ragged and exhausted, swatting at all our random questions. What does Yao think of America? Has Yao walked the Freedom Trail? How are his relations with Shaquille O'Neal? And why is Glen Rice so surly, I mean, does he really think anybody needs a quote from his veteran ass? Colin listens to each question carefully, nodding in comprehension, then slowly translates them to Yao, who continues the nodding. Yao slowly pieces together a response in Mandarin, sending the nods back to Colin, who nods along and then condenses the answer, slowly, back into English for the reporters, who are too busy scribbling to nod. I have no notepad, so I am just nodding the whole time, since I get everything!

A funny thing happens. The Chinese guys start asking him questions directly in Chinese. This angers Yao, who then has to reroute the train and have Colin translate the question into English, before re-translating it into Chinese for Yao, who must answer in Chinese. At one point, in reference to a commercial in which Yao has troubles buying a Statue of Liberty statuette, a reporter jokingly asks if Yao has figured out how to buy that Statue yet! Hilarity! Colin begins translating but Yao cuts him off and answers--in Chinese, of course--that he is contemplating buying the actual Statue of Liberty. True hilarity, though Yao seems more irked than smiley-faced. Colin translates it back and everyone laughs. Get a load of this guy!

As the interview ensues, something becomes chillingly obvious: Yao understands English. He is hearing the questions the first time, pre-translation, and spending the entire chain composing the neatest answer possible. When he hears something touchy--about Shaq or American culture or the Chinese government, for example--he relies on Colin's gatekeeping to pretend that something was "lost in translation," cause it's not like they can address him directly on omissions, right? And who wants to start the whole nodding thing anew, just to figure out how much of his salary goes back home?

So, I didn't exactly become B.F.F. with Yao and show him around Boston, which might have been pretty sweet. I did, however, learn that it is sometimes quite amusing to meet people on their own turf, if that turf presumes certain stereotypical things about you. I tell my students this story the next day (I had not prepared any materials for discussion) and we shared a good laugh, especially the Laker fan who had grown very tired of Glen Rice's whining.


Around that time I was on assignment (a real one, this time) interviewing a then-unknown New Jersey City rapper named Joe Budden. He is still unknown, but back then he was really young and unknown, thus worth covering. One of the odd parts about interviewing people is wondering whether they like you, and then wondering why you care in the first place -- it's not like I'm going to be back here in the heart of The Jerz and randomly run into this guy (or his mom or aunt or cousin or childhood friends, all of whom I meet while on assignment). The only interviewee I've ever been interested in befriending is Yao Ming, and my inability at the press mosh to flex my "basketball I.Q." probably deaded that proposition early on.

But for whatever reason, I have a good time riding around in Joe's advance-swallowing Hummer and meeting his mom and hearing about all the crazy stuff that has happened to them and eating at his favorite diner and meeting his hype-man at the mall, etc. The thing about interviewing an artist on the way up is that s/he hasn't developed that filter yet--s/he will give you way too much to work with, especially given that you only have 300 words to crank out in as formulaic a way as possible. I remember that Joe was wearing a cap featuring the logos of every NBA team extant--headware of the indecisive, I call it.

(An example. Not the one.)

Anyhow, we go our separate ways at the end of the day and once the paycheck cashes I forget all about Joe Budden. But that summer, Jumpoff Joe scored a hit with "Pump it Up." It was buoyant and fun but sounded instantly dated--and this wasn't just its striking resemblance to a decade-old Tribe remix. It was a big enough hit that people began checking for Joe en masse, and for some reason Jay-Z decided to jack the beat for his own freestyle, dissing Joe (or avenging a diss?) in the process. Jay's version featured a still-got-it, NBA-aware verse where he tongue-lashed young Joe (or whoever) for being more Harold Miner or JR Rider than Kobe or McGrady. It was very "Jordan mustering up some strength to drive past a young guy." Sensing the possible end of his career, Joe replied (again, to no-one in particular):

"I'm a standout like Yao Ming - I'm whats sparkin now
Like 'Fall back, Shaq,' I'm startin' now"

Ouchie wallabee!

Sadly, despite even better barbs involving Dirk Nowitzki and other ballers, Joe's career has stalled in the years since that verse/hit; his career has never quite taken off, despite support from rap nerds and bloggers everywhere.

Jay has done quite all right for himself, if those acephalous laptop commercials indicate anything. But one more interesting little thing: in 2003 Jay released "Excuse Me Miss Again," a remix of his puffy hit from the year before featuring Kanye West and some mean airliner synths. I particularly enjoy the line, "I move the weight like I'm Oprah's son" but the bit that stands out for all Yao-watchers is the last line of his verse:

"This ain't Chris Rock bitch, it's the ROC bitch
And I'm the Franchise like a Houston Rocket - yaoming?"

At the end of his second line, he twists the standard hip-hop-ism of "Knawmean?" to sound like "Yaoming?" Genius! The boy's such an author he should be smoking a pipe. Yadidamean?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Send in the Drones

The wee picture above features Rufus Harley, who apparently passed in time for today's New York Times. If I could figure out a way to do so, I would make this picture as large as your screen would allow, because you really need to see his headware. Although, blurred down to a pixel-poor outline, it probably looks cooler--almost Rammellzee-ish:

Anyhow, Harley was just another aspiring young Philly jazz guy back in the 1960s, blowing away like mad on woefully trad instruments like saxophones and clarinets. In November 1963 Harley was working for the city, watching JFK's funeral procession on television; he fixed on the squadron of bagpipers. Such snaking, mournful sounds! Here was an impossibly deep breath worth taking! He scoured the city for bagpipes, eventually ending up in a pawn shop in the Rotten Apple. He taught himself how to manipulate the bladder and blowpipes by trial-and-error, often pissing off his neighbors. When the fuzz showed, he'd merely look the other way and pull the race card--"Do I look Scottish?"

The rest, as they say, is history, if by "history" one means "strange but true but dope stories that remain largely untold (except on Wikipedia)."

In this culture of overspecialization, Harley quickly became the world's only (and thus greatest) (but, if you think about it, worst, too) jazz-funk bagpiper. He appeared on the Steve Allen show, recorded an album about Kennedy and a very gimmicky one called Scotch and Soul and executed a facemelting cover of the Byrds' "Eight Miles High." So much druggier and dirge-like than the original. It sounds like one long-ass wheeze, or a full-body sigh to stave off bad pills. I used to listen to this as loud as possible to purge/negate my mind. And when my dorm-mates would complain, I would simply pretend that I did not understand English.

Here's another Harley action shot that gives you a sense of his mania:

Rest in peace, Rufus. A rich and valuabe life, from the untouched days of Camelot and Malcolm to the current innovations in Goretex bagpipe bags.

Oliver has a link to Harley's most accessible moment, the surprisingly dance-able "Malika." It's there somewhere.

And here is a song that has nothing to do with Rufus Harley:

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, "Love Comes to Me"

I was reminded of this by two things: fellow Dizzyhead R. Emmet Sweeney's familyname (b/c of the BPB collaboration with Matt (as opposed to Mike or Mark) Sweeney) and all the horrible possibilities of the current geopolitical moment. And yet, one still rides the train, falls in love, listens to songs, etc.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Goodbye All

I think we've bonded with each other. Reached a deep understanding. Unfortunately my last post here as a Dizzy is a downer.

If one wants to witness the death of rock music in America (and prove that country, hip-hop, and pop are the only things worth listening to), go to McCarren Pool on a Sunday afternoon in Williamsburg. There one will see the most preening, self-obsessed narcissists this side of happy hour on Wall Street (crowd and bands). I saw two acts, "The Harlem Shakes", and "Apollo Sunshine." What happened to the rock 'n' roll vocalist? When did nasal whining become the prevelant style? Why do they try to sing falsetto when their voices are incapable of it? It's all so confusing, especially since the finely quaffed crowd seemed so into it. The Harlem Shakes were especially bad, tuneless affable youngsters searching for grand hooky choruses but ending up with shapeless walls of sound. Perhaps part of the fault lies with the crappy audio - they brought on two sax players who were remarkably inaudible. But I think that's being kind - they simply didn't have any energy. I also question whether they've been to Harlem or ever performed the dance in their name.

Apollo Sunshine had a couple of decent fake blues tunes, loud chunky riffs, gravelly yelling, and some tentative attempts at feedback. I can enjoy that on a nice day. It didn't last long. The rest was off-key crooning over stock indie chord changes. It's all so boring.

The saddest part was that the most accomplished musician on the bill, Questlove of the Roots, was ignored as he DJ'd between sets (mainly old-school hip-hop, which was like manna from heaven compared to the live acts).

I hear that Deerhoof, the headliner, is not as terrible, but I had to leave before I could make any more damning judgments.

Brad Paisley could show these punks a thing or two about showmanship.

Anyway, thanks for sticking with me for the week - I'm sure Hua Hsu will liven things up tomorrow.

Sweeney God

Many thanks to R. Emmet Sweeney for filling in! Jazz, football, spelunking, country music—several things heretofore not really covered on The Dizzies! Hopefully R.E.S. will pay a return visit soon. In the meantime, visit Termite Art for your Sweeney fix.

* * *

To tide you over until Hua's Dizzies debut, here's an amazing excerpt from Ahree Lee's short film Me (also check out her website).

And here's something from this week's reading matter:
Everything she saw now reminded her of Egypt. It was like following the clues in a detective story. It was like being in love. Once you were aware of a thing, a name, or a word, you began to notice it everywhere.

—Rachel Ingalls, "Third Time Lucky" (from The Pearlkillers)

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