Our dirt bikes bring all the boys to the yard. Damn right, they're better than yours.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Beard Bound For Nowhere

It was a spring night in the late ‘90s, on barge crossing the Dawson River in Dawson City, Yukon, at roughly 4am, when a half-dozen of us were singing The Gambler at the top of our lungs. It was light out – as the darkest it gets there at that time of year is twilight – and there was an RCMP car parked behind us with two amused cops in it, making the whole thing that much more ludicrous. Six of us had roadtripped in two trucks from Edmonton to Dawson, where we had a cabin to stay in, and this was the boozy pinnacle of our bonding experience.

I realize now that, aside from beard jokes and nostalgia for renting Six Pack in the early days of VHS, Kenny Rogers’ main purpose on this earth is to facilitate bonding experiences between drunken white dudes. You have to look long and hard to find someone who doesn’t understand the 1978 single is his pinnacle.

According to the Wikipedia, that disc has sold to date 35 million copies (the fact that The Gambler album has its own Wikipedia page is pretty funny too), giving him license to do a lot of “uncool” and not-so manly things, like wear white suits and emasculating sweaters, open fast food chicken restaurants, and guest star on TV shows like Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Touched by and Angel, and still in some way be manly. Take away the song The Gambler, and I suspect he’d be considered a colossal pussy in league with guys like Randy Travis. In his defence, though, he does sing arguably the most important song on the Big Lebowski soundtrack, Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In), allowing for drunken bonding experiences among an entirely different set of white Dudes.

So, I was surfing around CNN tonight and came across a video clip of a recent morning show segment of the 68-year-old promoting his new album, and I realized something was off. It wasn’t strange that he seems to have gained a little weight, or that he was wearing a cheery blue pullover one Sweater Threat Level away from “Cosby,” but I was surprised that he’d shaved his beard into a goatee. I can’t recall ever seeing him without that iconic symbol of ‘70s masculinity (the face-rug once sported by James Brolin and still sported by Chuck Norris). Rogers’ jawline now more cherubic than angular, I wondered if he’d finally given up completely on the tough guy/Gambler-birthed image that’s defined the guy as long as I can remember.

More accurately, it’s probably that Kenny Rogers works better as a concept than an actual artist anyhow. Christ, check out these lyrics to his new single, I Can’t Unlove You (sample it for yourself on his official site). You’d think it was written by George Dubya.

I can’t unthink about you

I can’t unfeel your touch

I can’t unhear all the words, unsay all the things that used to mean so much

I wish I could unremember everything my heart’s been through

I’m finding out it’s impossible to do

It’s no use, I can’t unlove you

I wish I could somehow unread that. Jeesh, people complain about forces like the Internet and Ebonics “destroying language” – well, I’m pointing a finger at Kenny Rogers. It should be noted that he didn’t write the song, but in the CNN interview he says he’s always considered himself good at picking songs. What?!? Granted, the world seems to be getting collectively dumber, but this leads me to suspect Rogers was storing precious brain cells in his beard. I guess the only good thing about the song is that – hit or not – it’s so awkward lyrically there’s no way a bunch of white dudes could effectively sing it after getting drunk.

(If you're curious, the above portrait is made of seeds, and comes from here)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Out of the blue

I posted this yesterday night, but now I'm adding to it. I just realized that it's the first piece of fiction writing I've done since February, 2005, when my laptop was stolen. Maybe this will become a serial. If anyone cares what happens, that is.
His arms wrapped around her. "I think you're wonderful," he said, brushing a crumb of the saran-wrappedchocolate cake they'd shared from her lips.
"That's a matter of opinion," she said. Her back was to him now, and he noticed for the first time in years that her ears stuck out much farther than most attractive people's ears. Close up, with his wrists interlocked around her waist, he could see that her dandruff was overwhelming what little attractiveness her perpetually dry scalp could muster. The line of hair at nape of her neck was neither straight nor consistent with the layering on the rest of her too-pointed head. A smell, not unlike deep-fried mackeral, wafted from her skin, red and mottled from their overzealous session of far-too-rare lovemaking.
"I'm really tired of this, William," she said, calling him by the name his father used when the old man was mad at him, and breaking his grasp. "You know I've been seeing someone else for almost a month, don't you?"
The thought had never crossed his mind. His eyes watched as she took a few steps deeper into the darkness at the edge of the well-worn path they'd been lost on for hours. His eyes wandered upwards to the long streak of bright white specks not unlike the ones on her head.
"Was it something I did?" he asked, mostly of himself.
"It certainly wasn't. If your would have done something, there might have been something worth saving here," she said, wrinkling her long, crooked nose, and shoving her fingers through her greasy hair. "As it stands, you might as well have been one of the kids working the checkout counter at the grocery store, for all the connection we've made."
Bill couldn't remember having sex with any of the cashier "kids." He also couldn't remember a time when the checkout kids had cried themselves to sleep in his arms. Mind you, he wasn't there when their mothers had died, either. He felt a tear forming in the corner of his eye, and blamed the wind. She saw it.
"Give me a break." She turned to the darkness, and snarfed condescendingly.

Exactly three years and three months earlier, summer exploded over the valleys near Oceantown. If green were a dollar a pound, the trees would be rich, and the lawns, in the dry summer, would have still been comfortably well off. Bill met his sister at the grocery store. With her was Matthew, her "differently-abled" son.
"Eggs, Matthew. Go get mommy the medium eggs."
Matthew, 14, let a string of drool roll off his lip onto his shirt. He could hear and see and repeat, but he couldn't seem to understand. His foam helmet kept his soft head safe from all the complexities of the real world.
"Hey, catface," Bill said to his sister, who, at 200 pounds, was sadly the most attractive woman he'd ever seen naked, even accidentally.
"Billy! What brings a nice boy like you to a shithole like this?" Down the isle, Matthew had knocked over a jar of mayonnaise, and was distracting himself from his eggquest by smearing the mess around with his shoe.
"Groceries," said Bill.
"What?" she half-belched. Her breath smelled of rum, but only because of the icecream she'd slobbered all down her oversized shirt. "Matthew! What are you doing?! I swear, if I have to come over there..."
Matthew, with a fleeting grasp of the concepts of right and wrong, ceased his smearing. He reached down, picked up the lid to the mayonnaise jar, and brought it to Bill.
Bill looked around to see if anyone had heard. He'd never tell anyone, but he found Matthew a little disgusting. He knew there was nothing the boy could do about it, but that didn't change the fact that he got a little twinge in the pit of his stomach when he saw the boy's twisted face and crooked, drool-shined teeth.
"Mom wants to know if you're going to come for supper tonight. She's inviting that woman she keeps talking about from Cartech. She's making a roast. It's too big for just the three of us."
Inside, Bill, wretched. Another weakly veiled setup attempt by his parts-counter mother. Bill knew nothing about cars or parts, and conversations with his mother inevitibly lead to what part so-and-so had accidentally ordered, or how the Chrysler somethingorother was cronically something or other, and that lead to shortages of a 20-cent gasket. And the people she wrked with were equally uninteresting.
He looked in his grocery basket. Spam, white bread, and a jar of mustard. He'd put back the oranges after remembering he'd spent five dollars on a beer last night.
"I'll be there."

Monday, March 20, 2006

For Those Vaguely Considering to Rock...

A few weeks ago I wrote about the 50 free downloads from Paste magazine, and I finally took advantage of ‘em. What I didn’t know is that I didn’t need the card in the mag, as emusic.com offers a standard 50 free downloads trial membership. So, shame on Paste for pretending it’s something special for those who bought the mag, but cool tools for everyone else.

It works like this:

1) Sign up for an account by filling in the standard info fields (instructions on the site are straightforward), and by giving them a credit card number. The site is endorsed by a bunch of places, like Pitchfork Media, and they make the reassurances that your info is private, so by giving them my “junk” Hotmail addy that I use for any contests, I signed up. The site offers several levels of membership, where the more you pay, the more you can download per month. This doesn’t matter if you’re only taking advantage of the trial offer, of course.

2) Pick some music. There’s a lot the site doesn’t have, especially if you’re looking for mainstream artists. I couldn’t find the new Kanye West album or any White Stripes, for example. The trade-off is that the songs you download are yours to do with whatever you with, meaning they aren’t encoded to prevent them being loaded on certain devices or anything like that. For each song they offer, you can sample 30 seconds of the song. Each track counts as one download, which is sometimes dumb, particularly on discs with short interlude tracks or intros. Strangely, on some albums you can download these tracks, while on others you can’t, which kinda sucks if you want an album in its entirety. They should offer these ones for free or free with the entire album.

I spent a lot of time poking around the site, and it’s decently searchable (just make sure you spell titles perfectly) with plenty of categories and sub-categories. And if you’re not interested in mainstream radio stuff, there’s plenty there to snag. For example, a whack of the blues artists on Fat Possum, most of Neko Case’s discography, including her brand new disc, Sufjan Stevens, The New Pornographers, Johnny Cash’s Sun studio singles album, Felix da Housecat, The Arcade Fire, Ray Charles, the Danger Doom album, etc.

3) Get all 50 songs at once and shut down your account. There’s a tab to click on to do this, and they’ll ask you to answer some questions that you can ignore. This is important because otherwise they’ll start charging you after two weeks, and since most people are lazy, it’s better to snag 50 songs and jet right away (unless of course, you decide to stay with the service).

Like a true nerd I agonized over my picks. I didn’t want to waste my 50 downloads on stuff I was going to buy anyway, so I decided to find older stuff I either didn’t have on disc or mp3, albums that were tough to find or stuff I wasn’t going to take a chance on otherwise but was curious enough about to sample.

Here’s what I picked and why:

Public Enemy – New Whirl Odor

This is the new PE disc, which isn’t that easy to find as they haven’t been on a major for quite some time. Like their last few album, it relies too much on Chuck D shouting repetitive phrases over and over, and ranting over an average beat (like sitting in a lecture hall with a DJ). But, that said, there are a couple stand-outs that deftly combine Chuck’s rallying cries with some big old-school beats.

Drive By Truckers – The Dirty South

I’d been reading about these guys for a while. They’re often billed “the thinking man’s Skynyrd” (I’d hate to hear what the retard’s Skynyrd would sound like), and the one single I’d downloaded previously, Lookout Mountain, kicks considerable ass. None of the other songs seem to live up to it, but I’m really warming up to the disc and its harrowing, bittersweet stories of life in the South. Gritty, often sad, and occasionally transcendent in a way one doesn’t often associate with Southern Rock.

Deadboy & the Elephantmen – We Are Night Sky

I actually just stumbled across this first album from this White Stripes-ish twosome. Because the new release is on one of my fave labels, Fat Possum, I decide to give it a try. It’s a mix of Fat Possum style garagey blues rock and some slower acoustic songs. Lyrics include stuff like raining skulls and having your father’s bones under your bed. I’m all for that type stuff. It’s slowly growing on me. Like mould on a sleeping hobo.

Rocket From the Crypt – The State of Art is on Fire / Plays the Music Machine

Got this decade-old EP on vinyl, and I’ve always loved it, as it’s got some of the band’s best songs, including Human Spine. Sweet score; makes me sad the band played their last show this past Halloween. R.I.P., R.F.T.C.

The entire audio from Plan 9 From Outer Space

I had one track left and discovered that entire audio from the immortal Ed Wood classic was available as one download! The sound bytes on this alone make the entire trip to eMusic worthwhile. “Perhaps, on your way home, someone will pass you in the dark, and you will never know it... for they will be from outer space.”

If anyone else takes advantage of this, let us know what you downloaded, so you can be mock- … er, celebrated.