Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Theoretical Principles and Societal Costs

Wow.  Nearly seven months without an entry.  It would seem that I have been severely distracted.  More on that another time.  For now, I'll simply repost my reaction to a Washington Post blog entry about Rand Paul's letter in 2002 criticizing his local paper's support for the Fair Housing Act.

Such statements are more indicative of Rand Paul's overly simplistic view of individual liberty than his racial prejudice. I don't really know enough about him to understand what's in his heart when it comes to race. But my understanding is that he's a fan of Ayn Rand. As part of a seminar on justice back in college, I remember reading an article she authored in defense of individual liberty and against enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Very similar reasoning there as here: it's as appropriate for government to tell privately-owned restaurants that they must accommodate people of all races as it is for government to tell privately-owned restaurants that they must serve chocolate, vanilla and strawberry cake. The problem for Ayn Rand and Rand Paul is that they're arguing in a vacuum -- some theoretical world in which the Constitution does not exist. But the Constitution does exist, and it gives Congress the power to do what's necessary and proper to regulate interstate commerce. Of course, Ayn Rand, unlike Rand Paul, wasn't running for a seat in the Senate; we didn't need to worry much about her philosophical musings finding their way into public policy. It's perhaps not as productive to ask whether Rand Paul is a racist as it is to ask whether he's so disconnected from the world in which we live that he, as a United States Senator, would roll back two centuries of settled Constitutional law and stake out an interpretation of the Constitution that guts Congress of its authority to enact laws that regulate interstate commerce -- even if such an interpretation, taken to its logical extreme, should require a repeal of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Curious Case of Alison ____

Over the past few years, I've been receiving mail for someone named Alison ____ -- my address, but her name.  Always seemed strange to me, because she cannot be a prior resident of my apartment.  My building was constructed in 2001, and I've been the first and only (well, basically) tenant.  So we're not dealing with senders who didn't receive and process a Change of Address form from a prior occupant.

The bulk of the mis-directed mail came from the Culinary Institute of America, so I gathered that Alison is a CIA alum.  That got me even more intrigued, given my affinity for good eats.  I tried, without success, a number of times to get in touch with her and fill her in on this postal caper.  But the mystery may finally be on its way to a resolution.

Hello, Alison.

I hope you find this message more whimsical than intrusive. I live at __ River Terrace in New York. I think we may have been neighbors at some point, because I regularly receive some of your mail -- mostly in the form of CIA alumni materials, but, more recently, in the form of US Weekly. (I'm quite certain that you're not a former tenant of my apartment, because I've been a resident since it was constructed.)

I've tried to track you down on a number occasions, starting perhaps five years ago, to let you know that you may want to update the CIA with your correct address. But I never had any luck in that pursuit. Last week, during an amusing lunchtime conversation with friends, I was inspired to give it another shot. And here we are.

During that lunch, I mentioned that I have a subscription to US Weekly. But I quickly qualified that disclosure by explaining that the subscription isn't actually mine. (I'm a self-respecting guy, after all. Can't be known as an actual US Weekly subscriber!) At that point, I had to explain further. So I gave them the backstory.

About five years ago, I started to get some of your CIA mail. It had my address but your name. Strange, I thought, especially since your last name is quite close to mine. (The person I was living with at the time was intrigued in a different way. "Who's Alison ____? You never told me about an Alison," she interrogated.) After a while, the quantity of mis-delivered mail subsided. But it seemed to pick back up this summer.

My lunch companions encouraged me to try again to locate you, as if this had the workings of a Craigslist "Missed Connections" exercise. So I did, and I'm a bit tickled to contact you finally to let you know that I've been freeloading off your US Weekly subscription for a few months now.

Steven


Alison, thankfully, wasn't spooked.  She responded today and confirmed that she did, indeed, live in the same building for a year back in 2001.  But since then, she has changed addresses five times.  She also confirmed that she's a CIA grad, but she denied being an US Weekly subscriber.

Something seems amiss.  Either admitting that you're a subscriber is as much of an indignity to dignified women as it is to dignified men, or there's a piece to the puzzle that we're still missing.  Let's see how this shakes out.

I guess one upside is that I get to keep my free subscription to US Weekly.  Wonder what's going on with Jon and Kate this week?  And is Kourtney Kardashian experiencing any complications with her pregnancy?  I'll fill you in after an extended visit to the bathroom.  (Where else would you "read" such a thing?)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Favorites Among Favorites, Part 2

I put together a list of my favorite bands about a year and a half ago. Probably time to reflect and update.

Here are my current top 17 favorite bands of all time, arranged in reverse chronological order by the approximate date on which I fell in love with each. (17 because that's my favorite number.)

COLDPLAY
first song: yellow
fell in love with: fix you
current favorite: square one


LOS CAMPESINOS!
first song: you! me! dancing!
fell in love with: you! me! dancing!
current favorite:you'll need those fingers for crossing

THE EMBASSY
first song: it never entered my mind
fell in love with: it never entered my mind
current favorite: some indulgence

SHOUT OUT LOUDS
first song: the comeback
fell in love with: shut your eyes
current favorite: hard rain

MEW
first song: the zookeper’s boy
fell in love with: the seething rain weeps for you
current favorite: sometimes life isn't easy

PHOENIX
first song: too young
fell in love with: holdin’ on together
current favorite: 1901

THE RADIO DEPT.
first song: against the tide
fell in love with: strange things will happen
current favorite: ewan

INTERPOL
first song: obstacle 1
fell in love with: obstacle 1
current favorite: obstacle 1

LEONA NAESS
first song: i tried to rock you but you only roll
fell in love with: sunny sunday
current favorite: un-named

MY BLOODY VALENTINE
first song: soon
fell in love with: when you sleep
current favorite: sometimes

SAINT ETIENNE
first song: mario’s cafe
fell in love with: spring
current favorite: method of modern love

COCTEAU TWINS
first song: carolyn’s fingers
fell in love with: cico buff
current favorite: orange appled

THE SMITHS
first song: how soon is now?
fell in love with: there is a light that never goes out
current favorite: there is a light that never goes out

THE CURE
first song: just like heaven
fell in love with: just like heaven
current favorite: just like heaven

ERASURE
first song: oh l’amour
fell in love with: victim of love (vixenvitesse mix)
current favorite: i love saturday

DEPECHE MODE
first song: strangelove
fell in love with: everything counts
current favorite: but not tonight

NEW ORDER
first song: bizarre love triangle
fell in love with: bizarre love triangle
current favorite: bizarre love triangle



Changes

New favorite songs: "Bizarre Love Triangle," New Order; "Method of Modern Love," Saint Etienne; "1901," Phoenix; "Sometimes Life Isn't Easy," Mew; "Some Indulgence," The Embassy

Newly inducted: Leona Naess, The Embassy, Los Campesinos!, Coldplay 

Temporarily surpassed: Club 8, Stars, Broken Social Scene, British Sea Power

U.K.: 10
Sweden: 3
U.S.: 2
Denmark: 1
France: 1

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Darkness of Sunlight


A message I wrote to someone last night prompted me to listen to Slowdive.  Hadn't given them a listen in quite a while.  Not sure why I've let them go neglected the past few years.  Just for a Day is one of the prettiest albums of the early 90s.  It shimmers.  It soothes.  It straps a parachute onto your shoulders and slows you way, way down.  Perhaps the most potent downer of the non-pharmacological variety you can take.

I spent the whole day listening to it on an endless loop. While trudging through the rain to pick up lunch, I reflected on how perfectly suited that album is for a day like that.  Overcast.  Drizzly.  Cold.
Don't you know
I've left and gone away
You're knocking on the door I closed today
And everything looks brighter
Waves at play just soothe my pain away

"Waves"


And it's also particularly well-suited for my somber mood.

On my last day in L.A., I joked with my cousin about how the sun was really starting to get to me.  Every day seemed the same.  That relenting sun just wouldn't leave you alone.  So I got to thinking: had I grown up in Southern California, would I have discovered, let alone appreciated, Slowdive?  I think you need some clouds overhead, a chill in the air and some grime on the streets to connect fully with Slowdive.  And maybe that's why L.A. has little gravitational pull in the indie rock universe.  The scene emanates, instead, from places like NYC, the U.K. and Sweden -- places where people understand gloom.

[Update: Someone from L.A. took issue with my assessment, which is understandable.  I'm not suggesting that L.A. is incapable of exporting good music.  I'm just skeptical of its ability to inspire melancholy.  Could you imagine Joy Division, My Bloody Valentine, Interpol or Arcade Fire calling L.A. home?  I think that's part of the reason I've lost respect for Morrissey, now that he's an L.A. resident.  You can't preach miserablism from paradise.  You just can't.]

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

There He Goes

I'm having a beer. I rarely drink alone, but this occasion demands it. Probably should've reached for the whiskey instead.

My best friend dropped quite the bombshell on me today. I've been traveling a lot the past couple of weeks, so we haven't had a chance to talk much. When we finally connected, he told me that things are going so well with someone he recently met that I was prompted to begin composing a draft best man's toast in my head.

How could this be? Who the hell will commiserate with me now on the miseries of singledom? For the past several years, we've worn singledom as a badge of masochistic honor. And now ... ugh.

All this on the heels of my cousin's wedding. Bumped into some family friends who hadn't seen me since I was a little kid. Invariably, they asked whether I'm married. Upon hearing my response, they just as invariably asked, "Why not?" And then came the collective brainstorming on a possible damsel with whom to match me.

Just finished writing about one existential crisis, and I've now been pressed to write about yet another. I didn't start drinking until about eight years ago. (And look at me now ... drinking alone on a school night.) I gave in partially because it grew to be tiresome being the only cognisant person amongst drunkards. I may have to give in again and get married soon so that I'm not the only one at a party without a spouse.

Yeah. Should've gone with the Suntory. Relaxing times are much needed.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Finding Shame and Losing Your Soul

I've reached a bit of an existential crisis. It all started with the closing of the Virgin Megastore in Times Square. And it got worse with the closing of the Virgin Megastore in Union Square.

I'm one of an increasingly lonely breed who still buys CDs. A few months ago, after having dinner with a rather (annoyingly) young friend, I told him that I was going to drop by Virgin to pick up the new Franz Ferdinand album. He gave me a quizical look and asked: (1) Virgin's still around?; and (2) You actually buy CDs? (Keep in mind that this friend also stared at me blankly when I made a reference to The Karate Kid.  Annoyingly young, I tell ya.)

I have good reasons for holding on to such antiquated technology.  (I still have a turntable, damn it.) I enjoy flipping through liner notes; flipping through a PDF just ain't the same. It's hard to form a connection with a file. The tactile experience of fidgeting with a CD and its contents fosters a more direct association with the music that an MP3 just can't replicate. When I think of an album, I think of the case in which it came and, often, the design silkscreened onto the CD. Where's the slikscreening on an MP3?

And when I get that silly compulsion to impress an object of my affection by making her a mix CD, I need the source CDs. MP3s just won't do. I'm talking about a CD that you can listen to on a plain ol' CD player. Sure, I could simply plop a boatload of MP3s onto a CD. But where's the soul in that excercise? The soul lies in the hours of self-torment associated with slecting the perfect playlist to convey whatever obscure message you intend to send on an 80-minute disc. And converting from MP3 to WAV before burning won't do, either, because the process leaves you with a degraded reproduction.

Many people don't seem to realize that MP3s are created usng a lossy compression algorithm. To squish a 40 MB WAV file (about average for a four-minute song) into a 5 MB MP3 file, some compromises must be made. MP3s are merely a rough approximation of the real thing. There's sure to be a next-generation MP3 algorithm that's less lossy. With the original CDs on hand, I'll have the source materials needed to switch over for free. (A bit sickening to think about all the money Apple will make by convincing people to buy the same musc twice when a spiffy new compression algorithm comes along.)

I'm now left with J&R and Best Buy as brick-and-mortar stores where I can pick up CDs, and that just doesn't cut it. Virgin was pricey, but it was convenient. I used to walk over to the one in Times Square after work on Tuesdays to pick up new releases. It was open late, so stopping by after work was never a problem. And it tended to have a surprisingly good inventory. I could usually count on it to stock obscure imports and introduce me to good finds at its listening stations. (If not for Virgin, I wouldn't have stumbled upon White Lies the week before Coachella, and I would've missed my favorite performance at this year's festival.) J&R and Best Buy are as pedestrian as pedestrian can be. You can find Coldplay there, but good luck finding anything Pitchfork won't piss on.

Yeah, there are still indie shops like Other Music in the Village. But I need a place where I can buy Coldplay without being judged. And I need a place I can conveniently visit after work on Tuesday nights.

There's also the mail order route, but that puts a real crimp on the joy of instant gratification. On occasion, I've bought an album on iTunes so that I could have it as soon as it was released, only to order the CD as well from Amazon. As a good friend has suggested: why can't Amazon let you download an album instantly and offer you the option to buy the CD as well for a few bucks more? Alas, the answer -- as obvious as it is lamentable -- seems to be that the CD is a medium for which the industry is composing a requiem. There's no point in building a business model around a dying product. Its mass production life will soon end, and all that'll be left is a niche market -- much like the one for vinyl -- in which audio freaks shell out $25 for a domestic CD.

But back to that existential crisis. With the closing of Virgin, the last several albums I've purchased have been of the purely digital variety from iTunes. Nothing to touch, nothing to flip. Just a bunch of lifeless 1s and 0s masquerading as something with a pulse -- which is perhaps also an apt description of my soul now that I've crossed over to the other side.

Such a sad state of affairs.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Rumpus Confuseth

I'm really excited about seeing Where the Wild Things Are this weekend. Picked up the soundtrack last week. Karen O (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and the Kids. Good stuff. Delicate at times, effervescent at others. Melds well with the trailers that I've seen. I can almost picture the movie while listening to the soundtrack. (Maybe a bit like Spike picturing the movie while reading the book?) There's a certain whimsy to Karen, Spike and the book that would seem to make for an enchanting combination.

I'm taking my niece and nephews to see it. (When all you boogers are old enough to read this: cut your uncle some slack and remember the times when he took you to movies and such, will ya?) Sure hope they appreciate the whimsy.

[Update: Ugh. They didn't. Definitely a better movie for kids at heart than kids in reality.]

The Dread of Not Knowing

Heading home to Houston to take my mom to M.D. Anderson. Hopefully, her elevated white blood cell counts during the past couple of check-ups were aberrations, and this will turn out to be an uneventful trip

Thursday, September 24, 2009

You Had Me at "Urchin"

Had dinner at Esca last night.  Don't know why it hadn't been on my radar.  Probably because my radar typically doesn't pick up objects in midtown -- especially those in the Theater District.  And I likely wouldn't have been enthusiastic about going, even with its Mario Batali pedigree, had Frank Bruni not given it a nod in his parting Diner's Journal entry.

The meal as a whole didn't particularly impress, but one dish stood out as perhaps the tastiest I've had in a very long while: house made guitar cut spaghetti with sea urchin and crabmeat.

I'd taken a quick glance at the menu before going, and this dish caught my attention right away.  Our very dutiful waiter highlighted it as he went over the menu, and I could sense my eyes growing bigger as he described how it's prepared.  When the dish arrived, I had no doubt that the first bite would bring an overwhelming sense of awe.  The spaghetti strands looked quite fat, as if someone had swapped out the standard extruder with a super-chunky one.  And the sauce looked to be a sticky goo of melted sea urchin butter sprinkled generously with bits of sea urchin and crabmeat.  As I took my first bite, I marveled at the springiness of the spaghetti -- perfectly al dente, making my teeth do just the right amount of work.  And that sauce ... sticky goo never tasted so sublime.  My only disappointment with the dish was having to share it.

Unfortunately, the remaining portions of the dinner were quite forgettable.  The halibut belly crudo had an interesting texture, but it was a bit too salty for my taste.  The razor clam crudo would've been much more pleasing had the clams not been sliced into such tiny pieces that the best part of eating clams -- the enjoyment of their chewy consistency -- was rendered unattainable.  The grilled octopus was pleasing, but there wasn't enough of it to make a meaningful impression.  And the thresher shark was fun to try, but not so fun that I'd order it again.  (Strange how it looked like grilled pork but tasted like steamed pork.)

But none of those distractions and detractions much matter.  I'd go back just to order the spaghetti twice: once as an appetizer, and again as an entree.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Best I've Seen

Top 5 Shows I've Seen (ordered according to chronology, not degree of awe inspired):

Mew at Music Hall of Williamsburg - August 23, 2009
Phoenix at Terminal 5 - June 19, 2009
Leona Naess at Village Underground - September 22, 2002
Depeche Mode at Madison Square Garden - June 27, 2001
Saint Etienne at Bowery Ballroom - October 7, 2000

Danish Stadium Rock in Willy B.

Saw Mew at Music Hall of Williamsburg last night. And, holy freakin' crap! That was a pretty amazing show! Definitely in my top 5.


I was a bit down on the new album, most likely because my expectations were unreasonably skewed by And the Glass Handed Kites. (If ever I had to play that game again in which you choose 5 albums to keep you sane on a desert island, Kites would be at the top of the list. Each track flows seamlessly into the next, as if they were scenes in a movie. And there's not a clunker in the bunch.) Should've known that it would only be a matter of time before I grew into it. (I had brushed aside Kites upon my initial sampling. So unmoved I was that I skipped Mew when I had a chance to see them on the same bill as Bloc Party and Secret Machines.) The performance last night definitely sped up the process. (I've been listening to No More Stories ... all day, inspired in large part by last night's performance of "Sometimes Life Isn't Easy.")

For most, Mew is almost certainly an acquired taste. And it seems that, even for an experienced listener, each new album presents a new taste to acquire. There's just always so much complexity and nuance to digest. Atonal guitar riffs, discordant synth notes, disjointed rhythms, screechingly high-pitched vocals -- ugly individual noises that somehow meld to form luscious soundscapes.

I knew that getting any of my new music buddies to show for the concert would be a tough sell. In making the pitch, I described Mew as "maybe operatic, stadium-sized, indie rock with a slight metal tinge, if that makes any sense?" To my surprise, one bit within minutes, and another followed the next day. And we all agreed that the performance last night was phenomenal. (Shows are always more enjoyable when you're with others who share your enthusiasm.)

I last saw the band a couple of years back at Irving Plaza, and it was a rather disappointing experience. The sound system seemed mis-calibrated, as did Jonas's voice, and most everything sounded awash with a lack of clarity. But the band -- particularly Jonas -- was in top form last night. And the venue was ideal. The sound was big enough to fill MSG, but it was all squished into a shoebox of a space.

Can't wait for them to come back on a full North American tour.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Who Do you Think, Again

I'm constantly hearing from friends and acquaintances about their celebrity sightings in the city. Even people visiting the city for a few days seem to bump into more celebrities than I do. Maybe I'm just not paying close enough attention. (After all, there's a limited number of celebrities I'd be excited to see.) Or maybe I'm just a celebrity deterrent.

Well, while strolling home yesterday around 5:00, I came upon Interpol. I could positively identify Daniel and Sam, and they were sitting with two other guys dressed in black, so I assume those two were Paul and Carlos. (Didn't stop to confirm, as I'm not an ogler.) They were talking casually at a table outside The Odeon. Didn't seem to be the best of ideas, given how freakin' hot it was yesterday. But, hey ... I wouldn't have seen them otherwise. Hopefully, they were coming up with good ideas for their next album.

Definitely the most excited I've gotten about seeing a celebrity since De Niro shot a scene for Analyze That at the Audi dealership inside the building where I work.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Of Tanks, Games and Brotherhood

Frontline just re-broadcast its "Tank Man" episode from 2006. Not the most well put together of Frontline episodes, but insightful nonetheless.

Last week, as media outlets gave some (although not nearly enough) attention to the 20th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square protests of 1989, I read a couple of interesting postings about the so-called Tank Man on the NYT Lens blog. One brought to light a previously unpublished photo showing Tank Man preparing himself for a stand against the machinery of the state at least a good 25 yards in front of the first tank. The other featured accounts of four other photographers who captured some variation of that indelible moment.

As I read those postings, I thought back to the summer of 1989 and wondered what I was up to at the time. I was 13, wasting away the months between 7th and 8th grade. Before I bothered counting back the years, I'd assumed that I was still in elementary school, because it'd be somewhat excusable, or at least more tolerable, if I'd been an oblivious gradeschooler instead of an oblivious teenager. But the bothersome truth is that the events in my ancestral homeland that summer didn't make much of an impression on me as they unfolded.

Since then, I've developed a very difficult relationship with China. I recognize it as the place from which my roots, when traced back deep enough, sprouted. But I also go to great lengths to distance myself from it, identifying myself as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.

Pretty sure I didn't pick this up from my parents, although I do remember the lengths to which they discouraged me from buying anything made in China when I was a kid. Their attitude stemmed more from personal animosity towards the mainland than politics. I blindly played along for a while. But when I was in high school and college, I took the commandment quite a bit more seriously on my own, mostly because I'd learned to think for myself in grander terms. I avoided buying things made in China because I didn't want my dollars supporting a totalitarian regime. And it was difficult adhering to that principle, what with the arguments that such a silly protest was more likely to prolong the deprivation of Chinese people than to bring about any meaningful change. Besides, it was damn hard, even in the 90s, to avoid products made in China. I remember going to at least three stores in one afternoon to find computer speakers for my sister that were made in some place other than China. Couldn't find any, although I did win the respect of a small shop owner who asked what I was up to after I had him open up four different boxes of speakers.

I've mellowed with time. Unlike my parents, my beef isn't with the people of China. No, it's with the government that subjugates them ... the people to whom my roots ultimately trace. At some level, I look at them and see me.

The opening ceremony for the Olympics brought about some severely conflicting feelings. In the run up to the games, I'd read story after story about the myriad of problems faced by the organizers -- pollution, teaching basic Western etiquette to the masses, ouster of tenants to make way for venues, construction of fences to shield shantytowns from Western eyes, censorship of media access. So I was quite worried that the games would turn out to be a colossal mess and reflect poorly on people with whom I identify and to whom I am identified. But the prospect of failure also excited me, because I thought that failure would cause strain for a government that I detest.

When that glorious opening ceremony took place, I felt an immense sense of pride. The enthusiastic reaction of the crowd as the Taiwanese delegation entered the stadium was a particular surprise. All of that made me feel a greater sense of connectedness to the mainland.

At the time, I spoke to a Taiwanese friend about the strange mix of emotions I felt. She'd have none of it, because she feels no closer a bond to China than she does to Japan, Korea, Indonesia or Malaysia -- same general area, but those aren't her people. I was completely befuddled.

My guess is that she wouldn't be as sympathetic to Tank Man as I am, because she looks at Tank Man and sees not a bit of herself. I look at Tank Man and see the possibility of a brighter future for my distant brethren.

It's two weeks later. Do you know where your favorite song is?

[Yet another one of the entries written on the plane ride back to Houston for Memorial Day weekend. Gotta get better about posting in a more timely manner. Given my fickleness, I've already started to move on from Empire of the Sun. So much for a summer theme song. Eh. Brooding ain't good for the summer anyway.]


This is my theme song for the time being and the upcoming summer: "Standing on the Shore" by Empire of the Sun. For me, it's this year's "Time to Pretend." Catchy as hell, but in a more nuanced and less bombastic sort of way. Whereas "Time to Pretend" has an old-school funk to it, "Standing on the Shore" is more new wavy. (Think Modern Talking. Or am I the only one who remembers Modern Talking?)

It's been on heavy rotation on my iPod for a few weeks now, and I don't think that I'm close to taking it off. I listen to it and picture, again, Robert Downey, Jr. cruising about L.A. late at night in a convertible with the top down -- much as I did when I first heard "Daniel." It's not that I'm a big fan of Less Than Zero; I've never even watched the movie all the way through. But it seems to be a convenient reference point for a sense of brooding. (I suppose the next logical question might be why I'm so taken by songs that evoke a sense of brooding. Let's figure that out another day.)

It's hard to listen to Empire of the Sun and not think of MGMT. But aside from the vocals, I think that the similarities in sound result only from a shared sense of flair. MGMT is more of a rock band (with guitars and bandannas) whereas Empire of the Sun is more of a synth band. But both like to get disco-y every now and then, sounding almost Bee Gees-ish with high-pitched vocals and thump-thump bass lines.

They're Australian, as are Cut Copy, Ladyhawke and Cut Off Your Hands (well, New Zealanders on an Australian label, so close enough). Perhaps Australia is on its way to becoming the next Sweden in terms of being a reliable source of indie goodness.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

They can't deport you no more. (Almost.)

Woohoo! Just completed my naturalization/citizenship interview. Amazingly painless. I got in at 8:10 for an 8:20 appointment, and I was out of there by 9:00. One of the reasons I put off applying for citizenship for so long was the dread of dealing with what I had known to be an agency that moves in slow motion. Up until my fingerprinting a couple of months ago, I'd never had a visit to immigration that didn't take away at least half my day. I guess things may have actually changed. Who knew? If I had known, I would've applied much sooner.

And the whole process itself has been far more abbreviated than I'd expected. I sent in my application in late January of this year. A little over four months later, I've already wrapped up the interview. According to my adjudication officer, I can expect to be sworn in about a month from now. Just amazing. I'll abstain from critizing the inefficiencies of federal bureacracies for at least a month.

Until last night, I hadn't bothered opening up the citizenship study guide they gave me a couple of months ago after the fingerprinting. I've lived here long enough. I should know my stuff, no? Well, I got a bit anxious when I started flipping through the booklet of 100 possible questions. There are some hard ones, like:

1. How many amendments are there to the Constitution? (27. I got plenty on the dormant commerce clause in law school, but this they didn't teach me.)

2. In what year was the Constitution written? (1787. Good thing I read up, because this one got asked.)

3. What is one of the powers given to the federal government by the Constituion? (I would've said the right to regulate interstate commerce, but that wasn't one of the answer choices in the booklet. Good thing it wasn't asked. I may have gotten booted for getting into a meaningless debate with the interviewer.)

As I sat in the waiting room and looked around, I could sense the excitement and anticipation that many of those around me felt about their eminent prospects of becoming citizens. And I imagined that my parents probably felt the same before their interviews. But I couldn't muster any enthusiasm, because I viewed the process as rather perfunctory given all my years of living, essentially, as an American.

Yet after I completed the interview, a broad smile shoved aside my nonchalant ways and overtook the stoic expression on my face, for I realized that I would soon be a citizen ... finally.

Or maybe it was even more profound than that. Maybe, just then, I subsconsciously harkened memories of November 2008. I had prepared for the possibility that the interviewer might ask me why I'd waited so long to apply for citizenship. I was going to tell him that I hadn't felt compelled until the recent presidential election, when the frustration of sitting on the sidelines during a momentus occasion made me feel ashamed for not having done what was necessary to be a participant. He didn't ask, but I answered to myself anyway as I walked away.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

How's your hearing?

In the last few weeks since Coachella, I've been on a serious concert binge. Saw Cut Off Your Hands at Mercury Lounge, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart at Bowery Ballroom and The Radio Dept. at The Bell House. With any luck, I'll get around to writing entries about Cut Off Your Hands and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. But this entry goes to The Radio Dept.

A while back, not long after I awoke from a creative slumber and re-immersed myself in my passion for music, I identified British Sea Power as the (still existing) band highest on my list of favorites that I hadn't seen live. Of course, right after I conferred that title upon them, I saw them live. (Such are the perks of living in NYC. Everyone comes through here when they tour.) So I had to give the title to someone else: The Radio Dept.

At the time, I figured that it'd be a long while, if not forever, before I had to find yet another band to take the spot. The Radio Dept.'s from Malmo, Sweden, and (so far as I knew) they have not much of a following in the States. Well, either I was wrong or their popularity has grown. Their show a couple of Saturdays ago at The Bell House, which is a decent-sized venue out in Brooklyn, sold out.

The best and perhaps worst part of the night took place during the 15 minutes or so before The Radio Dept. began their set. Whoever was in charge of the intermission playlist got the break off to a wonderful start with a super-catchy song. Kinda like The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, but more polished, less fuzzy and with a female lead vocalist. That song was followed by The Embassy's "Some Indulgence," which I recognized right away. (Yet more Swedes!) But the next two songs were a complete mystery again. Sounded like The Smiths reborn as Scandinavians -- gloom with a bounce, if that makes any sense. I wanted dearly to figure out the names of the bands so that I could add them to my collection. Alas, I didn't know which curtains to pull apart to find the Wizard of Oz -- the faceless force with the impeccable taste who was responsible for the soothing sounds. It got to be too much, and I started to wish that the music would just stop, because I couldn't bear to hear another good song whose name would remain an unsolvable mystery to me.

Fortunately, The Radio Dept. took the stage not long afterwards, and they were great. That was a pleasant surprise, because they didn't sound particularly good in the live clips I'd seen on YouTube. But I was a bit disappointed to learn that they don't play with a live drummer or bassist; a Macbook took the place of the rhythm section.

I'm pretty sure they had a full-time drummer (and a female member) at the time of Lesser Matters. I guess that explains why their sound has mellowed out a bit -- no more driving bass lines and thunderous drum beats. But even in their more electronic-y incarnation, I still like them lots.

I wonder who takes The Radio Dept.'s place now? Ugh. I think I may have to suck it up and admit that it's Coldplay.

Stupid Girl's Revenge

[I'm writing this aboard a flight to Houston. Go figure that I'd written much of the entry below on the flight back from Coachella and left it languishing on my laptop. Man, I was seriously pissed at The Cure.]

This is what happens when you piss off karma, I guess. Coachella was loads of fun, as it always is. But it sputtered to a severely disappointing conclusion. Never thought I'd walk away from a Cure performance, but that's what we did on the last night of Coachella.

It's strange that I'd never seen The Cure live after being a fan for a couple of decades. Something always got in the way: ex-girlfriend's family trip, shifting taste in music, the general suckiness of their latter-day releases. There's no way I'd invest good money and a big chunk of time to see The Cure on tour now. But when they're part of the Coachella bundle, that's an ideal opportunity to see them finally.

It struck me as rather odd that The Cure was booked as a headliner. They don't fit the mold of a typical headliner because they, try as they might, don't sell many records these days. And they also don't really fit the mold of a throwback headliner because there's no mystique to seeing them live, given their incessant touring in support of their generally crappy new releases. It was special to see New Order at Coachella, because they sorta-kinda reunited after a sorta-kinda break-up. And they never were very big on touring even in their heyday. But what's so special about seeing a band that seems to be on tour every year, yet hasn't released a decent song in nearly two decades?

Going into Sunday, I didn't let the finer points of event booking get to me. I was in an exceedingly happy mood, and I fully expected to get into an even happier mood after The Cure ran through their collection of classics. But Robert Smith, in all his stubbornness, had other ideas.

I could sense that things likely weren't going to unfold in a pleasing manner when I couldn't recognize the first song they played. And I was virtually certain that the night would end on Disatisfaction Street when the first "classic" they played was "From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea." Wasting precious performance slots on semi-relevant songs like that meant fewer slots available for true classics like "Friday I'm in Love," "Fascination Street," "Boys Don't Cry," "High" and "Close to Me." Sure enough, none of those were on the playlist. (Well, not the part we stayed for anyway.)

They did play "Just Like Heaven" and "In Between Days" -- my absolute favorite Cure songs. But those came midway through the set, leaving me to wonder what could be left for a satisfying encore. They droned on with one unrecognizable blob of a song after another, leaving me and my friends to look at each other with disgust and unspoken shouts of "what the hell is this?" We gave them every opportunity to redeem themselves, but redemption was far beyond their reach. We lingered after their official set concluded, but on the understanding that we'd leave if we couldn't recognize the first song they played during their encore. When they returned and launched into yet another unrecognizable blob of a song, my friends and I exchanged expressions of dismay, and we began the long march toward the parking lot.

As we got past the gates, I wondered aloud: "Maybe this is Stupid Girl's revenge?" Right away, my Dallas friend -- a big believer in karma, chimed in: "Hey, I was just thinking that!"

So who's Stupid Girl? She's the hapless, yet excruciatingly annoying, semi-friend of a friend who accompanied us on our very first day at Coachella in 2005. She was most excited abut seeing Coldplay, but we left as Coldplay began their set, in part to spite her for her annoying ways. As we rolled out of the parking lot, she looked so sad listening to the sounds of Coldplay grow fainter.

Her revenge actually started a couple of nights earlier, during Paul McCartney's set. My Houston and Dallas friends grew impatient and wanted to leave because Paul wasn't playing very many Beatles songs. My O.C. friend and I wanted to stay a bit longer, but we figured we'd relent because it was only the start of what was going to be a very long weekend. Lo and behold, right before we reached the gates, Paul started to play "Let It Be" -- my favorite Beatles song and go-to karaoke tune. (You really only need to know three words, after all.) And he followed that up with a slew of Beatles classics. Alas, we were relegated to listening from Siberia because we gave up too soon.

And her revenge continued the next day, when we got stuck in traffic and missed Glasvegas. (Then again, we wouldn't have seen them anyway, because they backed out.)

By Sunday night, her revenge seemed complete (or so we thought). As we strolled toward the parking lot, I joked about how funny it would be if we were to hear The Cure playing "Boy's Don't Cry" as we drove away. Well, it turns out that those bums finished off their set with "Boys Don't Cry." (They played 30 minutes past curfew, so the organizers cut off the sound system in the middle of the song. But the band and the crowd carried on merrily. Those bastards.)


And just when we thought that karma had wrapped up its handiwork, we were quickly reminded that it's difficult to slow the momentum of vengeance. While waiting in the security line at the airport, my Dallas friend noticed an Asian girl in line with her parents and noted that she kinda looked like one of his ex-girlfriends -- an ex-girlfriend with whom he'd rather not interact. We really didn't need to get closer to confirm, given the way our luck was going. And, yup. He was right. What are the chances of bumping into an ex-girlfriend while you're on vacation? Pretty high, I guess, when karma has it in for you.

Oh well. I have some regret, but not enough to justify the cost that would've been required to foreclose it. The Cure gets an automatic skip on the iPod for the next couple of months at least.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Coachella Extravaganza



From Coachella 2009

Another Coachella has come and gone. And this was probably the best yet. But as was the case after the last one I attended in 2006, I fear that this may really have been the last for me and my friends. Throughout the weekend, we gave thought to what it would take for us all to make another trek to Indio. Which band would have to come back to life? We've already witnessed the resurrection of New Order and My Bloody Valentine at Coachella. Who's left?

My answer was easy: The Smiths. But after seeing Morrissey on the Main Stage, I may have to qualify that response. In any event, I don't think The Smiths would be enough to get all of us to show. (Maybe if Cocteau Twins were also on the roster, as they were supposed to have been in 2005.) We're not in college anymore, and we know it. Making it through three days in the desert is rough when you're not a kid. But I guess that's what made this last Coachella so special. It was rough, but there was virtually no whining among us, because our collective enthusiasm for the lineup was amazingly high.


DAY 1

Los Campesinos!
Wonderful, as always. This was my third time seeing them. And if they were to come to town next week, I'd see them again. Intense, skillful, rambunctious and carefree all at the same time. (Yeah, I know that logic doesn't bind those four adjectives together very well, but you'd have to see them live to understand.)



From Coachella 2009

M. Ward
Not as interesting without Zoe Deschanel. Him without She is a bit too folksy and not very cute. (Silly side note: Several people stopped me to compliment me on my She & Him t-shirt! Alas, they were mostly guys. Not sure how I feel about that.)

White Lies
Highlight of the weekend for me. I almost showed up at Coachella without knowing these guys. Discovered them only a few weeks earlier while milling about at Virgin Mega. Something about their album cover made me take a curious listen. Yet another Joy Division throwback (and I don't use that reference in a derogatory sense, like many others seem to enjoy doing these days) with a bit of Depcehe Mode synths mixed in. Quite the big voice from a rather small guy.


From Coachella 2009

Franz Ferdinand
Tough deciding whether to see them or blow them off in favor of Crystal Castles. (So much freakin' overlap this year! Already had to skip The Ting Tings to see White Lies. But that was an easy choice, since I saw The Ting Tings at Bowery last year.) Not a big fan of their latest album, and we'd already seen them put on an impressive performance at the Main Stage in 2006. Only caught a couple of songs before bailing for Crystal Castles. Probably should've stayed put.

Crystal Castles
What the hell? As my Houston friend put it: sounds like a cat screeching on stage. At least they played "Crimewave" before we all lost our patience and left to grab dinner.

Ghostland Observatory
Man, they definitely know how to put on a show. Sort of like Chemical Brothers with Freddie Mercury as frontman. Too bad we were stuck catching glimpses from the side of the tent, because we had to scoot midway through the set to catch Moz.

Morrissey

Second biggest disappointment of the weekend. Without Johnny Marr, he's basically a lounge singer with a hack backing band. Everything sounded the same -- one indistinctive, whiny song after another. Even when he played some recognizable, likable oldies such as "There's a Light That Never Goes Out" (my absolute favorite Smiths song) and "How Soon Is Now," it sounded as if he were singing cheap karaoke covers of the real thing. And he was being quite the prima donna. (Yeah, I do realize the redundancy in calling Moz a prima donna.) The sound mix wasn't to his liking, nor was the odor in the air. "I can smell burning flesh, and I hope to god it's human," he quipped. (There were barbecue vendors nearby. And he's vegan.) Such principles from a man who long left miserablism behind to cruise around L.A. in a Porsche.

Silversun Pickups
Filler, really. We needed to kill some time before Paul McCartney took the stage, so we drifted over to the nearby Outdoor Stage. I'd already seen them a couple of years back during CMJ, so I knew what to expect. Still can't listen to them without thinking "poor man's Smashing Pumpkins."

Paul McCartney
Most pleasant surprise of the weekend. When I first saw that Paul would be the headliner for the first night, I thought of him as a throwaway -- sorta like Prince from last year. But as the date drew closer, I was kinda excited about seeing him, mostly on the hope of hearing some Beatles material. It's hard not to like Paul. Seems like a genuinely nice guy. And he reeled off one Beatles classic after another: "Hey Jude," "Get Back," "The Long and Winding Road," "Let It Be."


DAY 2

Glasvegas
The bastards didn't show! Saturday was definitely the weakest of the days for us, so we lounged around near the hotel for much of the day, since there was nothing to see until 6:00. Probably shouldn't have been so nonchalant. It took us about an hour and a half to cover the eight miles between our hotel and the venue because of traffic, so we didn't show up until five minutes before Glasvegas was supposed to have wrapped up their set. But the tent was completely empty when we got there. I went up to one of the sound guys to ask whether Glasvegas had already played, hoping that maybe some scheduling quirk pushed their set to a later time. He told me something cryptic about the lead singer "falling off the bus" -- "extreme exhaustion and dehydration" was the word from the band. I'm sure that was just code for "wasted and hungover." But whatever. I was oddly happy that they didn't show, because it meant that my poor planning wasn't the reason I missed them.

TV on the Radio
Don't understand why they're so big with the hipsters and wannabe hipsters. I do like a few of their songs quite a bit. But I can't listen to any of their albums all the way through, because they're all filled with annoyances -- like saxophones. (I hate the saxophone. Throw ten seconds of a sax solo into a beautiful song, and it instantly becomes a crap song.) The ho-hum performance gave me a chance to roam the grounds in search of a friend who'd moved from New York to San Diego.

Fleet Foxes
I've tried and tried, but I just can't get into these guys. For a while, they were all the rage among the indie scenesters. But they're just too damn soft and folksy for me.

Thievery Corporation
Only caught them because there was nothing better to see at the time. That and my San Diego friend is a big fan. Definitely not my style. While watching them and their parade of guest vocalists from every freakin' continent, I kept thinking about John Cusack in
High Fidelity ridiculing the crappy taste in music of his ex-girlfriend's new lover: "His music: Latin and Bulgarian, whatever world music was trendy that week." (Sorry if you're reading this, San Diego friend.)

Band of Horses
They're good when they rock out, like on "Is There a Ghost." Otherwise, they get a bit too drony and country-ish. Reminds me of My Morning Jacket. Sort of like indie revivals of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

M.I.A.
Again, not my thing. Yet more confirmation that Saturday was a weak night. But we only caught a couple of songs before scooting over to the Outdoor Stage.

Jenny Lewis
One last filler before the main event. She's got a good voice and all, but just too jangly for me. Felt as if it were indie country night on the Outdoor Stage.

The Killers
If not for The Killers, we probably would've skipped Saturday altogether. But their performance alone was worth the price of admission. Definitely the most polished performance of the weekend -- with elaborate stage decoration, fireworks and all. I'd seen them once before in Vegas during the back end of the Hot Fuss tour. They were basically playing on a makeshift stage in a parking lot behind the Hard Rock Hotel. Good show, but very mechanical, as if they were playing as carefully as possible to record a live album. At Coachella, they came alive. Seems they've toured enough now to know what the crowd wants: lots of of Hot Fuss, very little Sam's Town and just enough Day & Age. I'd written off The Killers after Sam's Town. They regained my interest with Day & Age. And their performance at Coachella made me a full-fledged fan again.



From Coachella 2009



DAY 3

Sebastien Tellier
We learned our lesson and made sure to show up with plenty of time to spare before Lykke Li took the stage. With time on our hands, we checked out Sebastien, mostly because he has a good track on the Lost in Translation soundtrack. Not bad. Didn't know that he sings. Thought he was just an instrumentalist.

Lykke Li
I saw her at Le Poisson Rouge last year and was somewhat disappointed. When she plays live, she doesn't use recorded backing tracks. Instead, she tries to recreate her electronic-y studio sound with a live band, which doesn't really work. Translating Moog bass lines with a bass guitar just seems like a bad idea. So I went in with rather low expectations, even though I'm a big fan. And she delivered what I expected. If nothing else, her spunk is irrepressible. I think my Houston and Dallas friends enjoyed the performance more than I did, mostly because Lykke's a blonde from Sweden. And she gyrates quite a bit on stage, albeit in a spastic sort of way.



From Coachella 2009

Peter Bjorn & John
Speaking of Sweden ... I think it may have been Go Sweden! Day at Coachella. A bit of a surprise to see PB&J on the Main Stage. I mean, they've really only had one radio-friendly hit -- "Young Folks." Not a bad performance, but it seemed lacking on such a big stage. Sorta like a college team playing in a pro stadium.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Felt like 2006 all over again. That's when we saw them perform a rousing twilight set on the Main Stage, and they got the same slot this year. There's something wonderfully entertaining about Karen O's over-the-top theatrics, especially when they play "Maps" -- the loudest love song I know. Can't help but feel sappy when she slides her gloved hand across her face, singing, "Wait, they don't love you like I love you," as the sun sets behind the mountains.


From Coachella 2009

My Bloody Valentine
My friends and I had just seen MBV at ATP in the Catskills a few months back. Yet we were all pretty excited about seeing them again. MBV was great at ATP, but the sound seemed slightly off there. We were all hoping that the intense loudness would carry better on an outdoor stage -- and it did. But even with the open air, it was still damn loud -- especially the nearly 20 minutes of punishing white noise during "You Made Me Realise." (Two of my poor friends forgot their earplugs, so they had to make do with their index fingers. More creative was the guy who shoved cigarette butts into his ears.) I wondered whether MBV would be bold enough to pull that off at a setting such as Coachella, where the majority of the audience may not understand their eccentricities. But I shouldn't have doubted Kevin Shields's stubbornness. Quite impressive. Even more impressive was the crowd, which endured the head-rattling noise and clapped wildly afterwards. I really wouldn't have been surprised if there had been a mass exodus or chorus of boos. I mean, the majority of the crowd was probably not yet in kindergarten when MBV released its last album. I was happy to be wrong and shown how cross-generational music can be, even if it's music of the highly esoteric variety.


From Coachella 2009

The Cure
Hands down, the biggest disappointment of the weekend. I've been a big fan since junior high. But I've somehow never seen them live -- what with girlfriends taking off on family trips at the last minute, Robert Smith becoming a big mascaraed blob, and the whole bunch of them descending into general suckiness. I wouldn't pay now to see them on their own, but seeing them at Coachella seemed the ideal way to cross the old-timers off my list. Well, they stunk -- not because of poor execution, but because of their infuriating insistence on playing song after endless song of post-Wish drivel. It's sad when bands past their primes delude themselves into thinking that their new material is as good as their old stuff. I could sense that we were in for a rough set when they led off with "From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea," perhaps the most nondescript song on Wish. I knew that there'd be limited space on the setlist for classics, and if "From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea" was going to fill one of those slots, we were in trouble. Sure enough, my fears were confirmed when they played "Just Like Heaven" and "In Between Days" -- two of my absolute favorite Cure songs -- in the middle of the set. What the hell were they gonna leave for an encore? As it turned out, my friends and I didn't bother sticking around to find out. We walked out, because we just couldn't bear to listen to any more of their new stuff. Not even the prospect of hearing "Boys Don't Cry" could convince us to stay. Never thought there'd come a time when I'd walk out on one of my sentimental favorites, but they were just that infuriating. What a sad way to close out an otherwise awe-inspiring weekend.


* * *

So that was Coachella. Such wonderful memories (minus the miserable Cure). If that was the last one for me and my friends, I guess I can take solace in the fact that it was the best one.

Soundtrack for a Funeral

When the Bat for Lashes show at Bowery Ballroom was announced a couple of months back, I immediately picked up a ticket. At the time, I was listening to "Daniel" non-stop, and I was already a big fan of her first album. Seemed to be a safe bet that I'd like her second album, too. Well, I lost that bet. Dumped my ticket on Craigslist a couple of days before the show, because her second album is quite dreadful.

Several years back, I had some folks over at my place for a barbecue. A couple of my guests took issue with my playlist, ridiculing it as "suicide music." I took issue with their assessment. After all, anything short of Beyonce or Jay-Z would've been "suicide music" to drunken party girls. (Then again, they're the sort who probably would've made the same complaint while sober.) But had I been playing the second Bat for Lashes's album, they would've had a point.

She played Letterman on Friday. And, you know, I've soured on her even more after seeing that performance. It sounded great, but suspciously great. I'm quite certain she was lip synching. Such shame.


I've dumped tickets for shows because of scheduling conflicts, but never because I simply didn't feel like going anymore. Felt quite strange. Even more strange was the number of people clamoring for my ticket. Probably could've gotten several times face value, but I'm too much of a softy to gouge those who are serious about their music.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

When the LES and Williamsburg Spent the Weekend in the Catskills

[Ugh. This is what happens when inertia kicks your ass. The subject of this entry occurred in September 2008. I intended, as always, to write about it immediately, given the euphoric state that the event induced. And then a few months passed before I started writing. Yet more months passed before I finally finished.]

Time to catch up a bit. Let's start with ATP, perhaps the most magical of my experiences during the past several years.

I found out in November 2007 that My Bloody Valentine was reuniting for a series of concerts in the U.K. during June the following year. The thought of MBV playing live again got me so giddy that I bought a pair of tickets for one of the shows at the Roundhouse in London. I suspected that they'd probably eventually extend the tour to the U.S., where I could see them without hopping aboard a transatlantic flight and blowing off a few thousand dollars. But given the whims of temperamental musicians like Kevin Shields, I figured I should plan as if the show in London would be my one and only opportunity to see MBV live.

I have a certain sense of regret for coming of age during the wrong era -- that is, an era that didn't consist of the mid 80's and early 90's. Some of my favorite bands (or their peaks, anyway) came and went during those years. Just as I started to become interested in music, the Smiths were breaking up. When my aural senses finally began to appreciate the sound of guitars without the accompaniment of synthesizers, Pale Saints broke up. (Well, the incarnation fronted by Ian Masters anyway.) By November 2007, I had made peace with the likelihood that I'd probably never get to see some of my all-time favorites who had disbanded before becoming my all-time favorites. Given that mindset, I was prepared to hold reason at bay to ensure that a chance to see MBV didn't pass me by.

Then April 200
8 came around, and I got wind that MBV would be headlining the New York edition of the ATP Festival in September. I passed the word along to my music buddies, and we began to toss around the idea of going -- not just to see MBV, but to make up for our absence at Coachella during the past couple of years. (It's a wonder how music still binds us, even though we've become such different people living such different lives in such different places over the past 10 years.) Somehow, a vague notion quickly crystallized into a plan of action, and we were booked for a long-overdue reunion in the Catskills! Never mind that, aside from MBV and Yo La Tengo, we didn't much care for or know most of the other bands on the roster ... or that I had a pair of tickets for the Roundhouse that would now go unused. (Very expensive souvenirs, but souvenirs nonetheless.)

September seemed years away at the time, but it felt as if no time had passed at all as the moment of truth drew closer. My cohorts converged from the O.C., Houston and Dallas. Quite exciting to see them all here; we'd never been in NYC at the same time. And even though it'd been several years since our last get-together, we quickly regressed into our familiar high school form and out of our corporate shells.

We had dinner at Basta Pasta (wonderful, as usual) before heading down to anotheroom -- my absolute favorite bar, mostly because of their discerning taste in beer and music. And that discerning taste got the weekend off to a fortuitous start. The bartender had a pretty good song going on the iPod, so my Dallas friend asked him who it was. Turned out to be Built to Spill -- the main act for the first night of ATP whose set we had planned to skip because none of us knew anything about them.

So we headed out Friday morning with a sense of purpose. Had we not gone to anotheroom the night before, Thurston Moore would've been the highlight of the evening. But now, we were all anxious to see Built to Spill.

We wound our way slowly up to Monticello in the Catskills. When we arrived on the grounds of Kutsher's and saw the other festival goers streaming in to this dorm-like compound in the woods, the scene brought back memories of summer camps spent on campuses like Sam Houston State University out in the boonies of Texas. As we checked into our room, that feeling intensified. Kutsher's better days had come and gone decades ago. But no matter; we were too excited to care.

We rushed downstairs to the Stardust Room. (Yup. The Stardust Room. Whatever image the word "stardust" conjured in your mind probably bears a close resemblance to reality. It's a venue that, at first glance anyway, seemed better suited for the likes of Frankie Valli than My Bloody Valentine. But by the end of the weekend, we'd grown to find the place rather endearing.) Got there just in time to catch Thurston Moore. Amusing, but not really my thing. I'm barely a Sonic Youth fan as it is.

Then Built to Still took the stage. And, oh man, were we grateful for our brush with serendipity the night before at anotheroom. We all wondered how it was that we'd never heard Built to Spill all these years. That was a highlight performance for all of us, and our already ebullient dispositions began to float even farther into the stratosphere.

The next day was a bit of a wash on the music front. I don't think we caught even one set that day. But we still had fun, because ... hey, we were basically at summer camp! We ate a late lunch at a place called Bubba's (or if it wasn't called Bubba's, it should've been). We then swung by Bethel Woods to take a look at the site where Woodstock took place. Kinda amusing to see the old
folks there reminiscing about the olden days. Sort of like seeing me and my music buddies at Kutsher's in 40 years. And then it was back to the compound for some good ol' fashioned dopiness, playing ghetto-style putt-putt (a club in one hand and a beer in the other) and bocci. You know, I can't remember what the hell else we did that day, except that it was fun.

From ATP Festival 2008
Then came Sunday, the day we'd been waiting for. After a "healthy" brunch at a throwback diner called Tully's, our day was jammed packed with one show after another -- Robin Guthrie (1/3 of the the Cocteau Twins), Gemma Hays (2002 Mercury Prize nominee), Meurcury Rev (my favorite set of the weekend), ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead (damn rowdy live, but rather tame recorded), Yo La Tengo (not as spastic as they used to be) and then ... and then ... My Blody Freakin' Valentine!

It took a long while for them to take the stage. As we waited, some in the crowd broke into an amusing chant of "Yes We Can!" I chuckled, and felt even more at home, realizing that we were even more like-minded than I'd thought. When MBV finally took the stage, I must've had an amazingly huge smile on my face, because life suddenly felt more complete.

I don't remember all too much about the set, really, except that it was pretty freakin' loud (apparently, among the loudest concerts ever at 132 decibels). It was so loud that, even with earplugs on, I was a bit worried that I was going to suffer some permanent hearing loss. (I'd never worn earplugs at a concert, but I knew better for this one.) I mean, I could feel my internal organs shifting about from the intense vibrations.

My friends may disagree, but in terms of listenability, the show left quite a bit to be desired. The loudness was fun, but it made evertyhing sound awash. I couldn't make out much of the vocals or their signature guitar swirls. But whatever. They could've been playing banjos, and I would've been happy.

From ATP Festival 2008
Can't remember a time when the four of us were as happy as we were that night. So happy that we were cruising around the Catskills at 4:07 a.m. in search of a McDonald's, screaming at the tops of our lungs like drunken idiots (except for the driver, of course) to Coldplay, the Smiths and Depeche Mode. Quite grateful for having friends who share my passion for music.

And we're off to Coachella in a couple of weeks. Woohoo!

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Beacon within the Shadows

I heard "Here's Where the Story Ends" by The Sundays as I strolled through the HSBC downstairs on my way to grab lunch. Quite the unlikely place to hear such a wonderful song. I work in a rather lifeless building; the HSBC below, in particular, is perhaps more lifeless than death. Over the past nine years, I'd never heard anything but muffled chatter and the click-clack of heels as I cut through its lobby. Yet today, as I entered that void, my ears perked up immediately, and my eyes wandered toward the ceiling in search of the source of that sweet sound. I can recognize Harriet Wheeler's lovely voice anywhere, even in the depths of a black hole.

So for the most fleeting of moments, I had a smile on my face, and I felt as if I had stumbled upon a flowery meadow in the bowels of Midtown Manhattan.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

So Somber, It's Uplifting

This is my favorite song of the moment: "Daniel," the first single from Bat for Lashes's forthcoming album Two Suns. It seems I've played it 75 times in the past 24 hours.


She's got such a delicately haunting voice. I don't know if this will make sense to anyone else, but I listen to this song, and I think of Less Than Zero. It makes me envision Robert Downey, Jr. cruising around L.A. late at night in a convertible with the top down. Maybe it's that 80's synth sound in the background.

And the song also makes me think of Depeche Mode's "Behind the Wheel," as well as The Cure's "A Forest." Oddly enough, while tracking down this video on YouTube, I saw that Natasha has covered "A Forest."

Oh Berkeley, where art thou?

It's absolutely astounding to me how John C. Yoo still has a legal career, let alone a professorship at Boalt Hall -- the law school at U.C. Berkeley.

The Times has an article about nine newly-disclosed memos drafted by the Justice Department under Bush's reign that demonstrate further the depths of the war on civil liberties waged by the cronies in the previous administration.

According to the Times:
The secret legal opinions issued by Bush administration lawyers after the Sept. 11 attacks included assertions that the president could use the nation’s military within the United States to combat terrorism suspects and to conduct raids without obtaining search warrants.

...

The opinions reflected a broad interpretation of presidential authority, asserting as well that the president could unilaterally abrogate foreign treaties, ignore any guidance from Congress in dealing with detainees suspected of terrorism, and conduct a program of domestic eavesdropping without warrants.

...

The opinion authorizing the military to operate domestically was dated Oct. 23, 2001, and written by John C. Yoo, at the time a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, and Robert J. Delahunty, a special counsel in the office.

...

“The law has recognized that force (including deadly force) may be legitimately used in self-defense,” Mr. Yoo and Mr. Delahunty wrote to Mr. Gonzales. Therefore any objections based on the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches are swept away, they said, since any possible privacy offense resulting from such a search is a lesser matter than any injury from deadly force.

The Oct. 23 memorandum also said that “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.” It added that “the current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically.”

Bear in mind that this is the same person who authored the memo asserting that interrogation techniques need to produce an effect equivalent to something on the level of organ failure to constitute torture. (I think that, as a test of intellectual honesty, those who draft such memos should have to endure waterboarding before signing them.)

Berkeley administrators ought to be ashamed for inviting him into their midst. If I were a Berkeley faculty member, student or alum, I'd certainly be ashamed of this blight on my campus -- the same campus that was once the epicenter for protests against the Vietnam War.

Update: It appears I should cut Berkeley some slack, now that I've read an open letter from the law school's dean about the matter. Yoo received tenure in 1999. He worked in the Justice Department while on leave from the law school. I had suspected that I was missing some critical piece of information, as it seemed unfathomable that Berkeley would hire Yoo after he served in the Bush administration.

I can sympathize with Berkeley's predicament. Perhaps a tweaking of the rules regarding leaves of absence to work for the government are in order. I agree with the dean that an allegiance to academic freedom must entail the freedom of professors to sound off even the most absurd of ideas. But what Yoo wrote wasn't some loony law review article about the expanse of executive power. What he wrote was a document that established official executive department policy. Interrogators don't look to the theorteical musings of a law professor for boundaries on their interrogation techniques. But they do, presumably, look to memos promulgated by the Justice Department for that purpose.

Tenure shouldn't be jeopardized merely based upon disagreeable theoretical musings. But there ought to be some mechanism for putting tenure at jeopardy when a professor on leave engages in egregious conduct while implementing official government policies.