Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

June 24th, 2004 Comments off

A Musical Twofer

I’ve got two pieces in today’s Journal News. There’s a piece about the new incarnation of the pop band Matt Pond PA and their CD, “Emblems,” which is the fifth Matt Pond disc but the first for the new lineup. It’s quite good (the record, I mean; judge the piece for yourself). And then there’s a feature on one of my favorite songwriters, and a damned nice fella, Sam Beam, better known as Iron & Wine. I’ll have another piece on Sam in print in a different paper tomorrow. Check back for a link.

And, yes, I know. Three weeks between posts. Look, I’ve been busy. It sucks, too, because I’ve had some stuff I wanted to share. Got a bit of a slower period up ahead (until after the holiday, probably), so check back; I’ll be around.

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June 1st, 2004 Comments off

One of These Days My Head Is Gonna Explode. It Really, Really Is.

Two stories in the news today about people getting worked up over absofuckinglutely nothing. Nothing. By which I mean nothing. Just an overwhelming need to be outraged.

In one case, there’s the story of a nitwit from Philadelphia (link via Jim Romenesko’s always entertaining Obscure Store) who saw a billboard touting an exterminator as the “911 of Pest Control” and thought the advertiser was making reference not to the emergency phone line but the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. So she made a stink, writing to the company, ” In the name of all things sacred, I respectfully ask you to remove your offensive billboard advertising,” which has to be about the most sublimely unintentionally funny line I’ve read all day. Then, confronted by the news that she’s an idiot, this lady pulled the classic move of digging in, essentially saying, “OK, but they’re still wrong.” No they’re not; you are. You were. You are. And come tomorrow you still will be. By the way, this woman’s a nurse, which I only bring up so you’ll understand when I say please, please, please never let me end up in a hospital where I have to rely on a dolt like this for my healthcare needs. Seems like a good way to die of a hangnail.

Then comes this gem about animal activists in Britain who are upset about TV ads that feature a drunken chimp. (Well, the chimp isn’t really drunk; he’s just acting.) According to the story, these humorless nincompoops claim the campaign — which is intended to discourage binge drinking and uses the line “Don’t Be the Drunken Monkey” — “debase the animals” and “will increase cruelty to apes.” And, just when you think they’ve got to be kidding, along comes Jenny Hawley of the International Fund for Animal Welfare to deliver, by way of her indictment of the spots, the second-most sublimely unintentionally funny line of the day: “For a start, a chimp is an ape, not a monkey, which shows how ignorant this campaign is.” Yes, Jenny, that’s the ignorance revealed here. No question about it.

OK, I’ve gotta go, ’cause if I keep thinking about this stuff my head really will explode. I’ll leave you with these lines from “Planet of the Apes: The Musical” (as sung by the inimitable Troy McClure):

“I hate every ape I see, from chimpan-A to chimpan-Z. No, you’ll never make a monkey out of me.”

(You see, Jenny, in jokeland we don’t worry about the difference between an ape and a monkey. That’s because we’re making jokes, not writing zoology papers.)

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May 28th, 2004 Comments off

Beach Rules: A Tough Assignment

My pal Scott is calling on me to weigh in on the matter of beach etiquette. He wants me to add to the list of rules offered yesterday on one of Masslive’s sister sites’ Beach Blog. And I understand the instinct. I do have a habit of using this space to prescribe and proscribe various behaviors. (Plus, Scott likes to keep people blogging and I ain’t been doing it lately.)

Trouble is, I’m not all that sure I have much to add. I mean, even I have to mellow out sometimes. I love the beach. The beach is pretty much my favorite place to be in the world. My great fantasy in life is to live on the beach (well, not on the beach like some smelly bum; I mean I want to own a beachside home, preferably someplace nice and remote — actually, I have a locale in mind, but I’m not telling you what it is, because if I ever get there I don’t want to find you beat me to it; let’s just say it’s farther north than you’d wanna go) and just spend my days strolling and sitting by the ocean and thinking. That’s probably never gonna happen. But at the very least, I want to keep the beach someplace I go to be calm. I don’t want to be tense about the beach. Besides, the beach is supposed to be a relaxed environment. You don’t wanna go creating a whole bunch of unnecessary rules and ruining it for everyone. The rules spelled out at Beach Blog are pretty much enough as far as I’m concerned.

All that said, I will offer a couple of general rules you might want to keep in mind while packing up the station wagon:

First (and, really, if you follow this one you can skip the second for all I care): Stay off my beach. What I mean by this is, well, stay off my beach. If you go to the beach and you see me there, get back in your car and go to another beach. Even if we’re friends. If I didn’t specifically ask you to go to the beach with me, I’d really rather not see you. If you don’t know me and wouldn’t know if you were intruding on my beach day, I’d say it’s best to err on the side of caution. If you’re beachbound and you think there’s any chance I’m on the beach you want to go to, just assume I’m there and stay away. (This is easier than it might seem. Most of the beaches I go to are in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. And I never, ever go to any beaches in Massachusetts that aren’t in Wellfleet, Eastham or Provincetown. So if you can stay away from those, you’re safe. Also, I never go to any beaches in Rhode Island or New Hampshire. Well, once in a very long while New Hampshire, but only in the dead of winter, so let’s not sweat it there. You can have the whole state of Connecticut if you can find a public beach there. And the frequency with which I get to the beach in Maine is so rare, I think you can take your chances.) I don’t mean to insult you or anything. I just want you to leave me alone with the sea and the sand and the sun and whomever I’ve chosen to share my day with. That’s all.

Second: Don’t be an asshole. There it is again. I feel like I’m always having to offer that same advice. In situation after situation. And the crazy thing is, a lot of people can’t be bothered to listen. This is probably because a lot of people don’t know how to be anything but assholes. How do you know when you’re being an asshole on the beach? Pretty much the same way you know when you’re being an asshole in everyday life. If the stupid fucking shit you enjoy doing encroaches on the ability of other people to enjoy themselves (or at the very least, get through the day), you’re being an asshole. Look at that list of taboo behaviors on Beach Blog. If you’re doing the things listed as off-limits there, you’re probably being an asshole (especially the one about the cigarette butts and other litter). Here are some exceptions:

Drinking: From an etiquette standpoint, you can totally drink on the beach if you want. I mean, it might be against the law, but as long as you’re not hurting anyone other than yourself, go right ahead. Just don’t behave like a drunken idiot and ruin everyone else’s beach experience (really anyone else’s experience). And don’t expect the people around you to interrupt what they’re doing when your alcohol-related dehydration leads to sunstroke and you pass out face down in the sand. You created the problem, after all.

Stepping over people: If you’re walking along the waterline and some jackass has fallen asleep in a beach chair, feel free to step right over him. The waterline is everyone’s territory. It’s the guy who needs to sit there in his chair who’s the asshole, not you.

Other than that, just stick to Beach Blog’s rules. And before you do anything other than lying or sitting on your blanket (or in your chair, or whatever), building a sandcastle, playing in the water or walking along the waterline, think about whether doing it makes you an asshole. It’s called self-awareness. And if you combine it with concern for others, you’ll pretty much come out OK every time. Unless you’re one of those dedicated assholes who knows he’s fucking other people over and doesn’t care, in which case, what are you doing on the beach? Don’t you have a corporation to run?

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May 17th, 2004 Comments off

What a Day

I’m not gonna say too much about the fact that same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts today for a few reasons: 1) The fight ain’t over yet. There are 49 other states in which the right to marry is still denied to gay couples. And November 2006 isn’t so very far away. 2) Important as this issue has been for me (for reasons that will become clear presently if they’re not already), I’m straight. This is a day for others to celebrate and a good day for me to just let them. 3) I’m not real good at being positive and upbeat. I’m just much more comfortable being pissed off about stuff.

All that said, I do feel moved to give voice to what I’m thinking this afternoon. And given that I’ve been posting on this issue semi-regularly since November, maybe I have an obligation to say something. I only know how to say what I’m thinking, though. So I’ll say this: This is a momentous day, one of the greatest in my memory. Today, in one little corner of the world, in at least one regard, there is freedom and there is equality where there was neither yesterday. In case I never made it clear, this issue was never about homosexuality or marriage from my perspective. It was always about liberty. It was/is (as are all gay rights issues) about the fact that I cannot bear to be a part of a society that uses civil law to grant privilege to some and deny basic rights and protections to others. And today we’ve managed, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to take a step toward putting yet another expression of bigotry behind us. It’s not enough, of course, except for how it is.

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May 11th, 2004 Comments off

Fuck the IBEW

First some context: I am a staunch supporter of organized labor. I have never in my life so much as considered crossing a picket line. I will not do business with companies that have engaged in union busting. I won’t give a scab the time of day. And I always point out to friends who complain about paying their union dues that most of the benefits they enjoy at their jobs were won by their union. I have been a member of the International Lady Garment Workers Union and the National Writers Union (which is affiliated with the UAW). I believe unions are far from perfect, indeed some have clearly become quite corrupt, but still represent the working person’s best chances of receiving fair treatment from employers.

Now for the statement of the moment (as above): Fuck the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. According to this story in today’s Boston Globe, the IBEW has taken steps to block married gay members from receiving the same health and pension benefits as straight married members. That is repulsive. For a labor union to decide it’s only obliged to fight for those members whose lifestyles it approves of is an act beneath contempt. And there’s only one response I can offer. I will never again respect an IBEW picket line. I will applaud those who cross to work. I will make sure I do business with any company that uses scabs to replace IBEW members. And I will let those companies know that I believe they are doing the right thing by undermining the IBEW.

You reap what you sow, brothers and sisters. You reap what you sow.

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April 29th, 2004 Comments off

Tillman — It’s Not That Simple

Since the news broke last week about the death of former NFL player Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, there have been a couple of occasions on which I’ve considered posting my thoughts about Tillman. In essence, they boil down to, “This guy gave up the chance to earn millions of dollars playing football in order to go get shot at (and ultimately killed)? What an idiot.” But it isn’t nearly as simple as that. And I haven’t really been able to get my head around the complexity of it. So I’ve decided to shut up about it.

Not so much, Rene Gonzalez, a grad student (I don’t know what discipline) at UMass, Amherst and a writer for the campus newspaper, the Daily Collegian. Gonzalez penned a piece for yesterday’s paper in which he painted Tillman as a Rambo type, calling him a “‘G.I. Joe’ guy who got what was coming to him.” He’s getting blasted for it, by readers and by university officials, includeing President Jack Wilson.

I have to say that I think Gonzalez goes too far. It’s cold-hearted and immature to suggest that someone who has been killed while performing his duty as a soldier “got what was coming to him.” No he didn’t, Rene. And you weaken your overall point by saying as much. You could argue that he got what he asked for. You could argue that he got what he should have expected. But to claim he got what he had coming to him is absurd. With the possible exception of terrorists, no one who has died in Afghanistan or Iraq got what they had coming to them. No one.

The piece is, of course, overly simplistic. It could only have been written by a college student. Tillman’s decision to quit football and join the army after September 11 was almost certainly capricious and probably foolhardy. (I’m sorry, but smart people don’t put themselves in the way of artillery unless they have to, either because of class/economic circumstances or because there’s an actual invasion on — and usually not even then.) But it doesn’t make sense to conclude that Tillman was looking for Rambo-style glory. Chances are, he really was doing what he thought was right. Chances are, he really believed there was a threat that needed to be confronted and felt an obligation to be part of the fight. I can’t begin to understand that instinct. I can’t begin to understand why he would give up what he gave up to go and fight at a time when our military was plenty full of people who weren’t making $3.6 million to play a game. But I’m sure the decision wasn’t driven by a lust for glory. There’s plenty of fake glory to be had with much less risk on the gridiron if that’s the kind of personality you have.

All that said, I think Gonzalez is mostly on the mark. It’s nonsensical to hold Pat Tillman up as a hero. He’s certainly not someone I’d want anyone I love to emulate. He’s no more a hero than anyone else who has died in this war, and they’re mostly not heroes either. They’re people who were doing their jobs. And theirs is not to reason why, theirs is but to do and die. (I’m not invoking Tennyson here because it’s fun, by the way. It seems to me “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” and a bit of Crimean War history, is appropriate reading for anyone who wants to understand this little war of Mr. Bush’s.)

And let’s be realistic. Tillman’s getting the attention he’s getting because it’s good for the war effort to say, “Look. Look at this big, right, successful athlete and the sacrifices he made for you and your freedom.” Because almost no one’s gonna speak ill of a dead soldier. And no one’s gonna point out, at least not right away, that the truth is that Pat Tillman and all those other dead soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan died for exactly nothing. Not freedom (which the Bush administration knows and cares little about), not democracy (which is a just an insulting fucking joke given the way Bush came to power), and certainly not to make anyone safer (creating a breeding ground for terrorists is not the way to make the world safer). It’s just too hard to admit. So all most people (everyone except Rene Gonzalez so far) are every gonna do is say, “Wow. He gave up everything. I guess I’d better keep on supporting the troops [which shouldn’t mean supporting the war, but somehow does].” And that’s seven points, easy, for the hawks.

That’s part of the ugly truth, anyhow. And that’s my take on Pat Tillman. Mostly. It’s still way to simple, but it’s what I’ve got for the moment.

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April 19th, 2004 Comments off

Whatcha Waitin’ For?

This Pats Year, my book about a season in the life of New England Patriots fans, won’t be out until August (cleverly positioned to hit just before football season begins), but you can pre-order your copy now through Amazon. Just go here. Why should you do something like that? I don’t know. There is no reason, really. Unless you wanna make me feel good. And you do wanna make me feel good, don’t you? Oh, also, you save like eight bucks if you order the book now. Eight bucks. That’s almost a third of the cover price. So, you know, that’s pretty cool.

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April 14th, 2004 Comments off

Ah, Ca-RAP

So for quite some time (years, I guess), I’ve insisted on referring to myself as a journalist rather than a writer. Why? Well, mostly because I’ve run across too many hideously pretentious fucks who call themselves writers. In fact, pretty much all of the hideously pretentious fucks I’ve known who have endeavored to write professionally have insisted on calling themselves writers (ya gotta kinda put a little Euro-trill on the initial R sound there to get the effect) even while earning their livings by being surly behind the counter at video rental places or bagel shops. These are, you know, the MFAs who never quite manage to finish the big, important novels they’re forever working on, but who nonetheless look down their noses at us ink-stained types who actually lower ourselves and betray our art by, umm, you know, earning our living by, umm, you know writing. (And no, by the way, I’m not saying all MFAs are like this. Far from it. I know a lot of people who have MFAs — like a fucking lot of them — and most of them are good sorts, if burdened with loans they’ll never, ever be able to pay off. What I’m saying is that 80 percent of the people who are like that either have or are studying for an MFA. That’s all.)

Anyway, I’ve wandered pretty far off my point here, so let’s refocus. I don’t call myself a writer, even though as a pure descriptive term it would be dead on. What do I do for a living? I write. What type of person writes for a living? A writer. So what am I? A writer. But don’t call me that. It makes me feel dirty.

OK, so what does that leave me? Well, sometimes I’m a copywriter. That’s pretty easy. You put that word “copy” in front of the word “writer” and it strips all the potential pretense away. Copywriter = working stiff. (The pretentious types might say prostitute, which is fine by me, ’cause, you know, I’ve got a mortgage and everything that comes with it. And, just in case you missed it, I don’t much care for the pretentious types anyhow.) Writes neither to achieve personal satisfaction nor for the benefit of his readers, but simply for a paycheck. Good, good. I can live with that as long as the checks keep coming.

But sometimes I’m not a copywriter. Sometimes I’m a guy who writes features and trend stories for newspapers. And sometimes I’m a guy who writes books. (OK, that should be book. Singular. So far just one. But I’m working on the second one and it’s awkward to say book, so cut me a break.) I’m coming around on author, though it still doesn’t quite feel like it fits (sometimes I think it never will, even if I write 30 books). But what about the newspaper stuff? I’m not a reporter. Not often, anyhow. I used to be a reporter back in a previous life. I used to go out and gather news stories. But I don’t do that any more. I do some reporting when I write a trend piece, but, you know, that ain’t really reporting. It’s just, you know, chatting with more people than you chat with when you’re writing an artist feature or a book review or something. I’d be insulting actual reporters by calling myself a reporter. So I don’t.

As far as I can tell, that leaves me with journalist. It’s a bit much, a bit of a … whatever, but it’s what I’ve got. I think. Only now here comes Jimmy Breslin telling the New York Observer that he doesn’t want to be called a journalist, because he finds the word pretentious. (This is not what that story is about, by the way. It’s just a remark Breslin makes within it.) And I’m not like some Jimmy Breslin devotee or anything, but I do respect the guy enormously. He’s talented as all getup. (No shit, Sean. Any other brilliant observations today?)

What I’m trying to figure out is, is Breslin right? Is the word journalist pretentious? And even if it isn’t, do people think it is? ‘Cause the last thing I want is for my efforts to avoid a word I find pretentious to result in me using one that puts other people off. I’m not sure where to turn. Or what to call myself if I end up deciding Breslin is right. Any constructive ideas out there? Any at all?

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April 5th, 2004 Comments off

Pop Collectives

My piece on pop collectives (think Lambchop, Giant Sand, Calexico, Broken Social Scene …) ran as the arts lead in yesterday’s Boston Sunday Globe. Looked great in print. Nice big pix of BSS and Giant Sand. You don’t get those with the Web version, but there’s still the story, which is okay all by itself (if you ask me).

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March 30th, 2004 Comments off

Just 23 Weeks To Go

Who cares about opening day? Let’s concentrate on the real sport, shall we? The exciting pro-football news of the day is that the 2004-05 season will open with the Super Bowl Champion Patriots hosting the Indianapolis Colts in a Thursday night game Sept. 9. That looks to be an amazing match — assuming there are no big pre-season injuries that throw everything off (a big assumption) and assuming the Pats find a replacement for Ted Washington, the run-stuffing nose tackle who, in my opinion, was the biggest difference between the team’s 9-7 finish in 2002 and their championship run in 2003-04. (Big Ted went to my Raiders as a free agent. He’ll be joined on the line there by Warren Sapp, making for what might be the toughest run D in the league.)

It would be tough not to be psyched about a season opener with that much potential for great football. Keep in mind, the Pats’ most important regular-season win in 2003 was the win over the Colts. Plus, according to the “experts,” the Colts were supposed to beat the Pats in the playoffs. Indy fell short, of course. And the Pats took it all the way. Should be interesting watching the Patriots try to extend a 15-game winning streak against Manning and company. I predict that unless injuries change things, the defending champs will go into that home opener as one- or two-point underdogs. Just as they went into the 2002 season opener against Pittsburgh (also played in Foxborough) as underdogs. That’s just how it is with New England and the oddsmakers. I also predict the Pats will win by a touchdown.

Opening weekend will also include a Sunday night game that pits Kansas City against Denver (should look like an old AFL airshow), and a Monday night matchup between Carolina and Green Bay. I can’t wait. And, sure, it’s a late start to the season. One would normally expect those first games to happen a week earlier. But as I count it, doing that would land Wild Card weekend on Jan. 1 & 2, and I’m guessing the league would rather have its final regular season games fall on that weekend than put the first week of the playoffs there. That’s just a guess, though. And, you know, whatever’s behind the delay, for a start this big I can wait the extra seven days.

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