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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Staff Trax

Speaking of AMC's upcoming The Walking Dead, I talk about its teaser trailer using the Walker Brothers' "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Public Relations

It's no secret in our house that Matt likes Mad Men. Up until last Sunday, he had seen every episode from the first two seasons, but had yet to see a single episode from the third season. As a way of cramming in order to stay current with the fourth season, he rented the third season on DVD and finished watching it last night. He asked me to DVR "Public Relations" on Sunday and wanted to watch it last night.

Sitting on the couch in the TV room as he asked to watch it, I decided to say hell to canon, watching an entire series from the beginning, and asking questions, and just watched the episode with him.

That's right, me, Mr. Must Watch Every Episode In Order jumped past three whole seasons of a critically-acclaimed show and wanted to see an episode of Mad Men. I think I kinda understood what Diana went through when she watched LOST for the first time, starting with the final season.

I think there's a lot of value in watching an episode from a show not really knowing about the ongoing plot. It's not like watching an episode of Cheers where almost of the characters' stories and development are reset to zero from the previous episode. And it's not like trying to explain all the alternate timelines, flashbacks, and flashforwards found on LOST.

The key is to watch and wonder if you want to double-back or not. Myself? I hope there's a teaser for The Walking Dead on AMC shortly, so I'll stay tuned.

I will say that this is not the first time I jumped into a show not really knowing much about it before. People I knew strongly urged me to get into LOST, but I resisted like crazy until I caught a recap episode shortly into the second season. I quickly double-backed and never really looked back from then on.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In the high school halls

Work on When We Were the Kids inches closer to a first draft status. Looks like my September 15th goal is still a great possibility as I work on it some on some days and a lot on other days. The thing that keeps driving me to come up with new stories and ideas for stories is the desire to tell this story as all-encompassing as much as I can. If something that happened recently at a show reminds me of something similar to my high school experience in bands, then it's put into consideration for the book.

Here's a glimpse into how the creative process gets going, using a recent example.

A few weeks ago, I watched an excellent documentary on Rush called Beyond the Lighted Stage. If you're a fan of Rush, then I highly, highly recommend checking out the DVD. It's a very thorough and never-boring look at the Canadian trio's career.

As I watched the documentary and thought about the documentary, I kept thinking about how teenagers at my school got into the band. There was something apparently amazing about the Chronicles double-disc compilation, even though Rush's music seemed hard to explain to somebody who had never heard it. I don't remember how I heard Chronicles, but I do remember watching the VHS a few times and seeing the band's video for "Stick It Out" on Headbanger's Ball.

Coupled with guys I knew from school and Boy Scouts that were big fans, suddenly a lot of ideas came into my head about featuring Rush in When We Were the Kids. Something rings very true about a Rush fan -- they're most often relegated to the classic rock fan, but a certain type of one. The kind that believes a real instrumentalist must have chops-a-plenty. I know I went through that phase of thinking and I knew a few people that did as well. (You can still meet plenty of them if you hang out at a Guitar Center for a few hours.)

A couple of characters that I developed sketches for suddenly had a few more things to say when I decided to make them big Rush fans. I'm still struggling with making these guys more than one-note characters, but that's part of the fun in (at least) trying to do more. As much as I love Rush, I have to think of how these characters work with the other characters. Otherwise, I'd just be strolling far down memory lane and forgetting about these characters' importance to the overall story.

Ideas can come to me at any time or any place. More often than not, I come up with ideas when I'm not in front of the computer. Quite often, ideas come when I'm in the shower.

There's a little update. Things are coming together nicely.

Monday, July 26, 2010

More DC9 links

As if last week wasn't busy enough, but I also covered the New Pornographers' show at the Palladium Showroom and did a Q&A with Jason and Marcos from the Smoke.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Online and in print

In the print edition, I have an article on the New Pornographers, while this week's edition of Staff Trax is devoted to Coliseum, and I saw Silversun Pickups and Against Me! last night.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Don't blame the Cookie Monster

I've come to accept the fact that random musings about the Cookie Monster are bound to come into my head at any time. Lately, it's been about the whole, "let's make Cookie Monster eat fruit so he doesn't make kids obese" angle they went with a few years ago.

Since I heard about this, I think people should not blame the Cookie Monster. He's innocent of any crime.

I have yet to meet anyone who doesn't like cookies. Cookies are great, and they're not something truly harmful like cigarettes or heroin. (I don't think Heroin Monster or Smoke Monster would fly on Sesame Street anyway.)

There are understandable reasons to think there might be a potential harm in having a character on a kid's show devour cookies at any time of day or night. Then again, this is a monster that's blue and fuzzy with buggly eyes. How can that be a bad influence? He's already crazy, so why do adults think kids are going to take after him?

It's like how Garfield eats lasagna. Garfield likes to take everything easy, except when it comes to eating. Should Garfield eat vegetarian lasagna now ? I say no since it's his attitude about life that's reflected onto what he eats. The same goes for the friendly blue monster.

Keep in mind, this rant is based solely on my time of watching Sesame Street since the eighties. I don't have any scientific research backing any of this up. These are just observations. Now to have a cookie with my dinner.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Free show

Over the weekend, in preparation for the Dallas Observer Music Awards, there was a lengthy showcase devoted to bands that were nominated. I reviewed three sets, all at different venues and for completely different acts. Needless to say, as much as I had fun with Diana as my plus-one, we didn't spend a lot of time on our feet yesterday.

As we walked up and heard the Secret Machines rock the you-kn0w-what out on "Lightning Blue Eyes," the tone of the rest of evening was bands, bands, bands. In a way, with our pink wristbands on our right hands, I thought we were at a mini-SXSW.

At some point, I thought about the privileges that my friends with SXSW badges have every year and compared them to what we had with our wristbands. Basically, we got into any of the sponsoring venues for free and could come and go as we pleased.

That leads me to something I remembered Jim DeRogatis told me about how he reviews shows. He's never forgotten what it was like to pay good money to see a show and feel disappointed. Even though he reviewed many shows for the Sun-Times for free, he kept that mindset.

I agree with that mindset, but I must admit that it's easy to forget as well.

I don't think I have been let down any of the shows I've covered for DC9. Then again, I haven't covered big shows where decent tickets neared the $100 mark. I think at most with the shows I've covered, the Warped Tour was $40 a ticket, but there were almost 100 bands playing that day.

I can remember the first time I saw the Dillinger Escape Plan. They played at the Ridglea Theater and I paid something like $20 to see them. Even though they played for only an hour, they were towering and blew my face off. I kept that in mind when I got to see them for free back in March. I thought they were even better.

But I think a big factor to enjoying any show (free or paid) is where you stand. Seeing Seryn early Sunday morning right up in front was a whole different experience than if I saw them at the back of the bar. According to comments left on my Hold Steady show review, there were people that weren't happy with the sound mix. Where I stood with Diana (two tiers up from the stage, between center and stage left), we heard everything just fine. Oh, and we had earplugs in too.

I'm thankful that I can get into shows I want to go for free. When I spend fifteen years paying to go to shows, the desire to get a good (or great) experience stays with me.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Staff Trax

This week's edition is devoted to the newest single by the great Canadian rock band, Stars.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Crutch Words

There are times that listening to yourself interview someone is as bad as (if not worse than) listening to yourself talk on an answering machine.

I have yet to meet anyone who is completely fine with his or her's voice. For whatever reason, there's something wrong with it and there's a level of embarrassment in hearing it. What's worse, though, is hearing yourself repeat words over and over again.

These are, in the words of a fellow reporter friend, called crutch words.

Over the weekend, I transcribed an interview I conducted for an upcoming Observer article. While listening to the twenty minutes of me talking to a musician known almost around the world, it's very obvious that I am a) nervous about talking to a musician I greatly admire, b) nervous about asking a stupid question, and c) nervous that this interview will not result in a decent article about a band I've liked for many years.

What do I say waaaaaayyyy too much? "Yeah," "I gotcha," and "I hear ya." Like clockwork, I say one or all of those words while trying to transition onto the next question.

Even after all these years of interviews, I still get nervous talking to musicians that I respect. More often than not, these interviews are my one shot at getting to talk to somebody and I usually don't have a lot of time to talk to them. As a result, I ask what I believe to be good questions that people (including myself) would like to know the answers to.

The worst interview I've ever conducted was with a pivotal figure featured in Post. If you've interviewed the guy, you know who I'm talking about: he'll cut you off at any time, he sounds like a grouch, and he's super intense about pretty much everything. That said, he gave me some of the best quotes in the book, and he was incredibly nice when I met him a few years after I interviewed him for the first time.

Maybe I'm just too cautious about this kind of stuff when it comes to abrupt and timed conversations. I can talk for hours with friends, and that's very easy to see when I interview someone I've known for years.

Later in the day that I interviewed this certain well-known musician, I interviewed two guys I've known for almost six years for another upcoming piece for the Observer. Instead of sitting at my desk at home on the phone, I sat across from them at my favorite bar, asking questions I've always to ask about, and the conversation flowed by incredibly well.

That said, chances are very good that I said "Cool," "I gotcha," "rightrightright," and "Yeah" over and over again. That's what happens when I'm a little too aware of people's availability and desire to talk about one topic.

I'm not so sure crutch words are a bad thing, but they sure can make you feel bad. I'm a human, not a Cylon, right?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ten Minutes

These days, I come up with more potential stories for When We Were the Kids than recipes for dinner. Granted, I thought more about Post than dinner options while I worked on that as well.

It's not like I don't take dinner seriously; I tend to have the same things over and over again at home, until I get sick of them (or literally get sick and permanently lose the taste of them, like crab cakes). Since I usually cook for myself, there's no gripes about having pizza, tomato bisque soup with a bagel, or breakfast tacos every week.

That said, I'm more than happy to try something different whenever a good idea strikes.

Whenever Diana and I can, we like to make dinner together. Last night, we tried out making a version of veggie tacos loosely based on the Black Bean Fiesta that Stevie made a while ago. My own version of breakfast tacos came from this recipe (as well as Robert Rodriguez's breakfast taco recipe), so I thought about applying some things with black beans, soft tortillas, and hard taco shells.

Here's the recipe that worked for us, made up on the spot:
1 green pepper, 1 red pepper, 1 yellow pepper
tortillas (we used Mission)
tacos (we used Old El Paso)
1 can of black beans
1 can of Ro*Tel tomatoes and green chiles
cheese (we used Mexican four-cheese)

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
While waiting for the oven to heat up, mash up the beans using a food processor.
Cut up the peppers how you prefer.
Once oven is ready, take tortillas and spread mashed black beans over them.
Place one taco shell per tortilla, and put them in the oven for five minutes.
Once out of the oven, put as much cheese, peppers, and Ro*Tel as you want in the shells.

Dinner is served!

This isn't brain surgery, and it took only ten minutes to prepare. That's the same amount it takes for me to prepare a pizza, since the oven takes ten minutes to heat.

Getting me out of a dinner routine is a good time. Routines are great, but they can also make you unaware that a lot of time is passing. So, if preparing something like veggie double-deckers helps, then that's a start.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Friday, July 09, 2010

Staff Trax and The Hold Steady

In this week's print edition, I preview the Hold Steady show at the Granada and this week's edition of Staff Trax gives some more love to the Warped Tour.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Let Me In

Sometimes there are reminders that there is a world outside of those who talk the most openly on the Internet. A recent example comes in the form of the forthcoming film, Let Me In.

If you believe the world is filled with people who leave comments on posts or message boards, then it's pretty safe to say that the Swedish film Let the Right One In is one of the greatest, most amazing, most awesome, frightening, gorgeous, and bad-ass films involving teenagers and vampires. There's no debate: it rules and it will be one of the greatest films for the rest of eternity. That is, until a surge of people bad-mouth it on the Internet and turn the tide.

But seriously, Let the Right One In is also a film that not that many people have seen, outside of the world of people who are really into films. (Mom? Dad? Susan? Matt? Diana's probably heard of it, but I don't think she's seen it.)

After reading an interview with Matt Reeves, the director of Let Me In (which is also based on the same book that Let the Right One In was based on) some things are starting to make sense as to why people would even want to tackle an American version of a film that's already been made in another country. Reeves sounds like he has intentions in the right place, so this will probably not be some generic cover version of a great song.

Sure, there are people who find this a bad, bad, bad idea, but is there any crime in introducing people to something that's not exactly that well known?

There are instances where I'd prefer that something remain as is and shouldn't be redone. Yet there are some things that I think are worth doing. Had I never seen Vanilla Sky, I would have never heard of Abre Los Ojos. Is that so wrong? I don't think so.

Frankly, I think it would be good to compare Let Me In and Let the Right One In because frankly, I wasn't that wowed by Let the Right One In. And I don't think it absolutely, truly matters which subtitles they used on the DVD edition, even I would like to see the film again with the original theatrical subtitles.

Back when I spent a little more time on the Internet (yes, there was a time), it seemed like popular opinion on stuff like Jimmy Eat World's B-sides, Screeching Weasel's best albums, and the merits of Kevin Smith's films was commonplace. More often than not, actually talking to people in person presents a (sometimes) different sort of view. It's a view that's frankly more engaging and understandable.

Again, just a reminder that there's a world out there beyond what people overly praise and overly hate on the Internet.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Warped

Something I absolutely love about my gig at the Observer is getting to cover shows that I would have paid to see. This past weekend, the Warped Tour came through town and I had a blast. After three Warped dates between 1998 and this year, I think I finally got to see how good the festival can be.

My first Warped was spent inside the Astroarena due to the threat of rain. According to the members of NOFX, the sound was horrible, so they threw their $5,000 payment for the day into the crowd. I didn't mind the sound and didn't think NOFX was throwing real money away. Turns out they were. Seeing the surge of folks running towards the stage made me realize that as much people debate what punk is or isn't on message boards and e-mail discussion lists, when there's free money, everyone wants it.

Last year's Warped was more or less a writing assignment. I was asked to cover the show and I didn't object. I wasn't planning on going to the show, but when an editor believes in your abilities to cover something you might enjoy, then by all means, step out of that routine/comfort zone.

I can't say that I had a bad time last year -- I just didn't get why whiny screamo bands like Chiodos and crappy novelty acts like 3OH!3 were considered worth paying money to see. As much as I hate to sound like the old man in a room full of kids, I had to ask if this was some well-calculated joke that I didn't get.

This year's Warped felt like the Warped Tour I always read about. There was a good mix of bands, including some of my all-time favorites. Yes, up there with Cheap Trick, Bruce Springsteen, Wilco, and Ben Folds Five in my mind, seeing face to face and the Dillinger Escape Plan again was a pure joy.

I was quite aware during face to face's set that I was the only guy up in front going nuts. Sure, there were guys who started a circle pit and plenty of people sang along, but I had no reservations about showing my appreciation for a punk band that has never felt dated or adolescent to me. I didn't care that I stuck out like a sore thumb around people that (at most) bopped their heads. A full set of classics and one new song was perfect for me.

There was plenty of music throughout the day and a lot of it was bland and blah. From the bands that sound like Paramore to the bands that sound like Sick of it All, I preferred to focus on bands that have been good for a while and will continue to be good. Hell, I was even surprised by the Rocket Summer.

So, yes, it took almost twelve years and three Warped dates to finally get what all these people have blocked out of their calendars a year in advance for. I must say I look forward to next year's date.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Warped Tour and Staff Trax

In this week's print edition of the Observer, I have a feature devoted to the Warped Tour. In this week's edition of Staff Trax, I point and praise to the humble genius that is Neil Finn.