Friday, June 30, 2006

Buying Dreams

I did something the other day that I hadn’t done in awhile – and I used to do this habitually, at the drop of the hat – and many times for no reason but for the soothing cultural aspects of the event itself.

I bought some CD’s.

Back in the day this was “buying albums, cruising the record shop – hanging out at Evolution Records & Tapes, which was always half a record store and half a head shop. “Want a bong with those 10 albums, sir?”

Of course when we just had albums (not Cd’s) record buying was a fairly visual experience. Stores lined their windows with album covers and always had large cardboard displays pushing the latest new artist or somebody’s latest greatest release. And you could spend hours flipping through albums overstuffed in the bins. Back in those days you often bought records, not because you liked the music, but because the album cover was cool. Really. This doesn’t happen now. I can barely make out the liner notes. Now with CD’s and fairly sanitized multi-media stores this buying experience is not quite the incense-filled cool thing it once was.

Oh, another thing – the people working at such record stores were fairly laid back hippie types who knew about everything coming and going out of their store. You could ask them anything. “Is this any good?” “Nah their second album was the best” “Really?" “Really.”

And then there was the hot chick behind the counter. That’s how I discovered Springsteen. The music artist who singularly became the background soundtrack for much of my adult years. Because of Dahlia.

“Hey Dahlia (we were the same class in high school). What’s good right now? I need something new (I’m fucking 17 you know).”

“This Springsteen fellow is selling pretty good – and I think it is good”

“Really – I was wondering….”

I had stared at the Born to Run cover for weeks, if not months, in the stores. It was a singularly graphic cover. In the days where 70’s-type color and grooviness ruled - this black and white composite of Bruce with Clarence was a unique image. But what lied beneath it? We had heard the title song, but…

And not to overstate it but it started a love affair that lasted several decades. All because of the hot chick.

So flash forward to two weeks ago. My office is near a Target and I’m in there buying a frame for a picture of Deborah and I to send to my Dad for Father’s Day. I wander over the CD racks thinking at the time that my 300-plus albums are still sitting boxed up in Dad’s garage. The ones he grudgingly lugged up four stories of stairs to my dorm room my senior year in college because I had a hernia operation a week before. The same albums he said were a waste of money because they usually only had one good song on them. The albums I defended saying they were now concept albums and it was a new time in music. The only time we ever came close to a physical confrontation was arguing over that point. Those same five boxes of plastic and art.

So I find myself in a very familiar spot – but amongst Target shoppers. I have a lot of CD’s as well but I don’t troll the aisles looking for new stuff like I used to. I have XM satellite radio, I make my own tapes off my CD’s – I’m not really wanting for new stuff – I can get it when I want to.

But now I say to myself I want to find the CD of an act I saw on Leno. And while I’m looking I find myself buying three others. I have not made a 4 CD purchase in 6 years. I mean I’m too mature for this. But I do it – and I relive the feelings and thoughts I used to relish in, well too many years ago. Sounds stupid, but that’s what it was.

So this is what I bought:

+ Natasha Bedingfield – Unwritten (Love the title song – so unique in this age of the same old same old)
+ Artic Monkeys – I have to find out what everyone is talking about; and I’ve been to their hometown Sheffield before (home of Def Leppard)
+ Chicago – Chicago 30 – well these are my oldtime faves, I just had to do it. Mistake though. Their last good year was 1987.

And what was I looking for?

The Wreckers - Stand Still, Look Pretty – a duo composed of super talented Michelle Branch and her back-up singer Jessica Harp. If Michelle Branch looked like Britney she would be the hands-down female pop/rocker girl act now. She decided to take a break from her solo career and cut this CD with Jessica and it’s a sublime country/pop disc. Check it out. Eagles with girls.

Buying music felt good. Again.

And Dad liked the picture.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Its Frankly Not About Me

A very prominent blogger in our blogosphere recently told me how I might attract more people to my site. Being a male in a fairly female world here, I was lamenting a bit on writing long tirades on certain topics but couldn’t quite rate up there with such topics as child birth, family, and spit-up et al. First of all she told me “not to go there” and secondly she said I wasn’t talking about myself enough. That most women wanted to hear people talk about their inner-selves and that was what was interesting. And even though I could go on and on about movies, TV and rock and roll – well that was only superficial stuff. I need to talk more about me. And that would be interesting. I also think she would sort of like to hear that more as well. Be careful where you get advice.

Well I’m not sure I agree but I’m going to give it a shot. There was a time in my life where I could do that very well – a long time ago. But what happens when you sort of mature (and I’m not saying anything here about anybody) you just pull the center off of yourself and motor on (“Motoring…!) I believe you can make your personality heard as you describe other events – and then that could show your colorful side – as it were.

I never wanted this blog to be about me. I wanted to be a faceless person who opined on pop culture (which I love) and politics. Obviously with respect to the latter I’m pretty much in a minority here but that’s okay. I have never been one to throw my beliefs on anyone, unless confronted. Believe what you want to believe. But if you really want to discuss it I will be glad to in a friendly social type of way. To me that is the only way for such discourse. Screaming and bleating is bad form.

What I do have to offer is that as a younger man I was really the only one of my fairly conservative friends who, while going through college, also lived a fairly counter-culture life while working at the hometown restaurant. It’s amazing to me that people I know now can be much more liberal than me who never went through that. I walked both sides. Fairly seriously.

It hit home this weekend. Deborah got invited to her art teacher’s party and it was like going back to the 70’s. I mean a bunch of people just sitting around playing bad guitar music and just chillin’. And the bohemians came out in droves. It was pretty much like where is the acid dude? I mean I can’t take this party unless I’m somewhere else mentally. While I haven't really been in that scene for years, there was a time I was cool when that meant something.

Later many of us were standing outside and the talk was pretty much 100% about government conspiracies. I mean it was funny that people were just talking like, well, everyone here must totally agree with our fairly fanatical views. Boy that took me back about 30 years. I’m standing outside with a bunch of stoner artists who think the world is going to hell – and I’m wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt.

There is more I would like to say here but I have to remember to talk more about me. I play a little guitar also. I’ve written a few ditties. I won a talent contest at college with a bottle of bourbon sitting in front of me. Maybe when it’s more in me I will tell you about it.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Where is Kramer?

I mean where is this guy? He was one of the singular icons of the 1990’s with his incredible turn on Seinfeld (and we are meaning the actor Michael Richards). He was chocalately….minty….. and refreshing – he was a godamned Junior Mint by god. But he will always be Kramer and maybe that’s the deal. But where the hell is he?

He had a sitcom right after but that went away after a year – and it wasn’t that bad. So where did he go? I mean come on Kramer – are you just living off your earnings from Kramerica, Inc? Mr. Kramer? Should I book a booth for you and Mr. Seinfeld at Monks at noon, sir?

Lemme tellya about my brush with Kramer. We were at a Santa Monica beach front bistro – can’t remember the name – but it was one of the big ones. We’re very happy sitting in our booth doing what I think was noon-time brunch on a Sunday. In through the side door comes Kramer. And he sits in a booth across the aisle from us definitely talking to some TV producer types about what we think would be that show we talked about. This was 2000.

As usual the man straddled the booth and had as an expressive conversation as you would wish for from the man who was known as Kramer. From that meeting we witnessed you would think this man was going to be rolling in Hollywood for a long time.

We were that close to the man. Kramer. And he was out there and "living every minute of it".

But he is no more. Absent. A ghost.

Farewell thee Kramer. I will be at Bob Sacamano’s.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Sideways Tour Redux

As I posted previously we had some friends come out from H-town to go to the Santa Barbara area to do a Sideways type tour of the wine country just north of there. More specifically this is the Santa Ynez Valley area 30 miles north of Santa Barbara and the vicinity consists of three towns: Buellton, which is pretty much the suburban area where everyone lives, and Solvang and Los Olivos. We stayed in Solvang – a lovely little Danish enclave which is about 3 square miles of gingerbread. It was founded by three Danish guys in 1911 – I had no idea it was that “new”. Frankly all three towns are within a stone’s throw of each other – and this, along with the wineries scattered about the beautiful countryside, is where the movie occurs.

We started Friday night with dinner (for the 12 of us) at the Hitching Post. This is the restaurant where Miles and Jack meet up with Maya in the film. Our table wasn’t ready when we got there so a number of us stood outside for a while. I got a kick out of looking at the restaurant’s sign as dusk gathered that is so synonymous with the film. And the Rio Vista Chevy dealer sign just down the road.

As usual, the restaurant is much smaller than on film (anybody been to Cheers in Boston? Happens all of the time.) And I mean really smaller. And the place is packed on a Friday night. Nothing really remarkable about the meal which is no surprise because trying to have an affordable good meal in California is almost an unobtainable pursuit. We paid our $110 for a dinner for two (with a bottle of wine) and got out of there. Good to be there though.

The next day we had a van pick us up to take us to the wineries. I would have much rather preferred to drive ourselves and spare that expense but it did keep everyone together and going on to the next spot in a fairly efficient manner. If we all had separate cars we would have argued endlessly about where to go – so while this cost another $100 per couple it was somewhat well worth it. We went to Kalyra first (where Jack picks up Stephanie). We then hit five other wineries while stopping to have lunch at Rusack which has a nice deck and garden for everyone to spread out. In the end this was a lovely afternoon. Really nice. That evening we had diner in Los Olivos where Miles drank-and-dialed. Deborah cased the joint and promptly announced to everyone that there was NO PHONE in the back of the restaurant. Another film fabrication. But other than that this place was pretty much just like it appeared on film. Again nothing remarkable in the food department. And another hundred bucks. Welcome to California y’all.

Previous to all of these wine country events our friends Mark and Rita flew in to LA and spent the evening with us prior to driving up the next day. This was the first time any of my friends from Houston have come out to visit me in the eight years since I moved here. This was remarkable. I picked them up at LAX Thursday afternoon and toured them own the coast before we got to home at harbor town San Pedro. On the way we stopped in Manhattan Beach and at Donald Trump’s National Golf Course in Palos Verde which is just around the corner from us ( yes the one that actually was prize job in the first season of the Apprentice).

We had dinner at home that night and set out to wine country the next day by stopping at Rodeo Drive. I thought they would get a kick out of it, but when I noticed Rita really spending time contemplating spending I knew we had to get out of there in time to make it up that coast that night in order to make the Hitching Post. We virtually spent an hour in the Ralph Lauren store with Mark (a former Michigander) buying some fu-fu loafers on sale. Man, everyone was going Hollywood.

I mention this because on Saturday morning while we were waiting for the van to pick us up and tour wine country Mark comes out of his room in silly cargo shorts and one of the worst brown and blue plaid shirts you will ever want to see. I mean, he was just buying sort of cool shoes on Rodeo Drive and now he looks like Farmer John. None of the group could figure out why this was a wine country outfit – or garb for any type of activity except plowing the back forty. Rita explained he did all of his shopping at Old Navy. Well maybe the Army surplus store. Nevertheless it was interesting to see what a bunch of Texans viewed as acceptable wine country attire. Myself – Hawaiian shirt, shorts and sandals of course.

We didn’t’ let up later that night and while having beers in the hotel courtyard after dinner Mark had had enough ribbing. He set fire to his shirt, and man, it lit up like the fire hazard it was. He put the fire out before I could run and get my camera – but here is the grate we set the fire upon, the day after.

Another wardrobe malfunction remedied. And no one, to my account, drank any fucking merlot.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Point - Counter Point: Natalie Maines (Dixie Chicks) vs. Ann Coulter

Well these two "broads" have been in the news lately. Let' see how they do mano-y-mano. Bitch.

NM: Well Ann I see you have caused such a stir with your insensitive comments about the four 9/11 widows. How could you? You are part of the callous section of America who just spews hate.

AC: Well Natalie – and you can say that when you and your Dixie Chicks said at the height of our nations entrance into Iraq to defeat a dictator who had consistently threatened the US (after we had allowed him to live after his defeat in the 1991 Gulf War) that you told a London audience that “while we’re from Texas he ain’t our President”? That sounds like hate to me.

NM: Hey, I’m an American – I can say what I want to.

AC: And I’m an American – I can say what I want to.

NM: Yeah – but what you say is so hateful.

AC: And what you say is equally hateful – on a foreign soil, to denigrate your president – when you really don’t know what you’re talking about (and we’re sure you don’t) – is fairly treasonous. And since your fan base is mostly middle America – what were you thinking? You’re just a singing group, a good one I might add – but I mean you’re not the Stones. Hell, Mick could say anything – but he’s just smarter (well he has to be he’s been busted so many times. One learns from this – hopefully you’ll find out).

NM: Hey I have free speech and I can say what I want to anywhere if I want to. My opinion needs to be heard.

AC: Fine. But so you understand that you are an entertainer that needs to appeal to its fans. There is no guarantee in show business. And by shouting your mouth off you all had to go in hibernation for a few years.

NM: Yes but we came back strong and had a song “I’m Not Ready to Back Down” which shows our contempt for the whole administration.

AC: Good for you...

NM: and we were went right to the top of the charts . so there. We were right after all.

AC: Nice to wait 3 years and gloat.

NM: Well it just proves we were right.

AC: Well Oki-dokey, y’all. But before your CD’ s “drop” you said you didn’t “really need the Reba McIntyre fans and the likes” – that they weren’t really what you wanted as fans

NM: That’s right. If they’re hayseeds we don’t need ‘em.

AC: Well they ARE your fans you dumb mutherfucker and you’re so ate up with yourself you don’t even realize it.

NM: No they’re not - we have sophisticated fans who believe in exactly what we think.

AC: Uh, er, -one of your songs was about a guy named “Earl”.

NM: Yea–awwh . One of our favorites.

AC: And that‘s sophisticated? It’s fun, but don’t you think the hinterland related to that is a fairly basic way?

NM: I don’t understand. They love us.

AC: So why are you having to cancel tour dates in Houston, Nashville, Cleveland – I mean Cleveland, it’s not even a hick town?

NM: well there was logistics and all..

AC” No you pissed off your fans and they HATE you! You spouted off and thought you were invulnerable but in the end you have country fans and they don’t agree with a lick of what you say and in the end they have to LOVE you to buy tickets. Did you ever consider the possibility?

NM: Well that shouldn’t be right – if the government wasn’t doing what they are doing.

AC: And what are they doing to you?

NM: Well I’m just saying…

AC: You need to quit “just saying…”

NM: But why can you say the same stuff and still get away with it?

AC: Because I am selling to MY fans – the often ignored conservative right who is never represented in mainstream media until recently – I can say what I want because I will sell books. And beyond that, I’m trying to make a point – not just spout. There’s a big fucking difference. And because the opinions of many are never expressed on mainstream TV. Did you hear Brian Williams (NBC Evening Anchor) lead in on the Monday nightly news this week? – he was indignant that the President didn’t tell HIM that he was going to Iraq? Who the fuck is he? Unfuckingbelieveable! And its also because conservatives, as a whole don’t go around rabble rousing, we are quite as a most part - it’s the liberals though that have to have a bullhorn blaring their passionate, but BS ideas - But you don’t get that do you? (Well no one on this blog does).

And I even went on Jay Leno with George Carlin of all people. And the audience cheered me. Maybe my ideas aren't that radical? Maybe I struck a chord - duh ya think?

NM: Well you're just trying to sell books.

AC: Well you can't even sell concert tickets. Maybe you should write a book?

NM: Well if I could read.

AC: I get it now. Have fun playing to vacant arenas. I’ll sign a book for you.

Editors Note: Again friends - to point out the hypocrisy of the issue - nothing more.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Hug it out, bitch!

Entourage is back and we are all happy in la-la land. If you didn't know, this thoroughly entertaining HBO Comedy (ala Curb Your Enthusiasm - meaning it comes and goes mysteriously) opened back up on June 11 for its third season. I make enuthiastic mention of this because, not only it it drop dead funny, but many times, whether you have cable or not, you never know when these shows are on or even that they exist. I didn't catch up with these guys until the middle of the second season and was delighted to find their Hollywood antics just hilarious.

Based loosely on the similar experiences of Executive Producer's Mark Wahlburg's (Perfect Storm, Boogie Nights - and more importantly being Marky Mark) first foray into Hollywood, the show revolves around rising stud star Vincent Chase, his step brother Johnny Drama (affectionately know only as "Drama" and two other buddies, Eric ("E") and Turtle who he all "hires" to help him out in the 'Wood. Add Jeremy Piven's great turn as uber-agent Ari Gold and "you got gold baby". It shows you the business and entertainment side to LA that a only a few get a decent glimpse of working out here - but we know all of the sites and places - and have experienced a bit of it in a drive-by sort of way so, in our household, we can sort of relate. Having worked in the same building as HBO I dig the boyze meetings at the agent's decked-out office which I am pretty sure was shot on an empty floor right above me at one time. And everything is so topical - when U2 was in town, well they were in the show. And name dropping Drama's name on stage! Yo Drama.

That, and the classic dialogue between these long-time New Jersey buddies puts male bonding to it limits. Add the high- octane hubris of Agent Gold and you got quotation heaven. Stuff like the infamous "let's hug it out" to "E, bring your suntan lotion because we're going to hell".

And throw in Hollywood cameos and extras all over the place from Mandy Moore to James Woods to James Cameron and you got a party. And you'll never know who'll show up. And that's drama.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Voting is Good

I voted on Tuesday. I love to vote. I guess I’m somewhat political – but more so I think I am “civic”. And more importantly I believe active participation in this process is what we should do as Americans.

I’m not going to say if you don’t vote you can’t bitch about it. That’s a simple platitude – and I don’t believe in those.

A good part of the voting process I enjoy is the neighborhood pastoral part of it. In both the Houston Heights and here in San Pedro, CA I live close by to polling places that are old high schools with auditoriums and/or foyers that are majestic in nature and bring back great memories of the schools in New York and Jersey that I attended as a kid. It is almost that as I vote – I step back in time, and a good time.

I enjoy the part that everyone knows where to go to cast their ballot and the line of friendly neighborhood people who help you in the process. And I even like the little “I voted” sticker they give you. This process of “assembling and acting” brings a sense of community that is so precious to our nation, our state, our county – our neighborhood. Little pink houses.

Voting, however, is just like anything else we may or may not do – if you do it regularly then you get in practice to do it. That makes you pay attention to what is going on – and realize that your vote IS important. It is a discipline you must master. And it can make a difference. And it is just not the national debate that, frankly, has been taken wildly out of control by the 24-hour news organizations that must find something to fill the airwaves. It is the local issues as well – and those are ones we all can make a more significant individual impact upon. Take this week in LA (please go here for a real rant).

Please realize that in this post I am trying to stay away from party or ideology leanings. The reality is that we all must participate in a healthy dialogue in discussing important issues that concern all of us as Americans – or even others. I hate it when such discussions devolve into simple one-liners, or dropping of company or politician names for some type of emphasis, such that it sounds like any elementary school playground argument. We must rise above that in order to continue to craft, monitor and employ the most free government on the globe.

And, as a start, we must vote.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The "After Memorial Day Weekend" Couch Potato Report

Since the last few weekends have been spent preparing the house for guests, including painting the entire upstairs hallway, and removing ivy from the house, and other endless household chores in anticipation for our friends' visit and subsequent trip to Sideways wine country, this last weekend was a complete veg - fully supported by the four DVD, CD, videos or whatever you call them, that Deborah brought home Friday evening - complete with a box of Dots.

But we did adventure out into the sunlight and back into the darkness Saturday to see the much anticipated, hyped and talked about The Da Vinci Code. And as has been described here before I made sure I was able to cram in a quick read of the book (since the whole world has read it) before I saw the movie. That seemed to be a must for me.

Don't do it. After reading related books about the sites, and seeing Tom on Leno and reading all of the bad reviews, I was ready to leave after the first (of what would be five) half hour(s). Later Deborah told me she really enjoyed it - she who read the book over a year ago. Meanwhile I was bored beyond belief. And to add to that it was a "quiet movie" - and although we were in the third row and frankly at least 8 rows in front of anybody else I could hear the popcorn knashers clear as day through the first friggin' hour just as if Mary Magadalene was sitting next to me with a huge buttered-top tub herself! For the love of God please leave your grazing habits at home!

Frankly the movie was fine, with a number of good parts - in fact, the many "flashbacks" that critics assailed as a use to describe the history of the Templar Knights and Constantine, for example, were really well done in a grainy hazy way - I'm not sure what else Opie was supposed to do with that. I do think the sense of urgency and danger was not really evident at the outset of the movie such that - to me- it really never got its pace that you seem to feel in the book. Despite that it is pretty true to the novel except for the final scene between Langdon and Sophie - which is just plain goofy.

And I think Tom looks fine in long hair.

Other DVD's we wasted time with this weekend:

LA Story - If you have never seen this gem shot back in 1991 with Steve Martin and a coming-out Sara Jessica Parker, run don't walk. It's amazing to me how we have pretty much been to all of those sites in the movie since. But not on roller skates.

The Family Stone - Released last year it made a bit of a ripple. Decent family holiday get-together bit with alot of good current actors, but Sara Jessica's character is so uncomfortable with everything it sort of makes you uncomfortable (I'd like to think that may be good acting). It all ends with a flourish with a great feel good song from the mid-to-late 70's which can send some of us back. Music in films in the "00's can be very important.

Capote - As a fan of many of the sub-roles Phillip Seymour Hoffman has played (Boogie Nights, Twister) I fully supported his nod for best actor Oscar this year. Now I would like my vote back. Yeah I guess he plays Capote as the high pitched 'mamby pampy elitist feme fancy boy about town' he was, but man, is it annoying. Wait, did I just say that may be good acting. Nevermind. But I'd leave this DVD on the shelf.

Last Days - Speaking of Nevemind, this movie spends the last 54 hours following somebody who is supposed to be Nirvana's Kurt Cobain around his leafy Washington State mansion grounds and streams just before he blow his brains out. The box says it's famed director's Gus Van Zant's "masterpiece". My ass. It was almost like he just set a camera in a room a pointed it at a wall. I wanted to blow my head off at the end of this one myself.

Sideways - Caught a bit of it on cable for the first time since our trip. It still friggin' rules.