The Power of Lard

I had some friends over Friday night and totally rednecked out on them by making a huge baked macaroni and cheese (with bacon) for dinner. It was faboo, but now I’m just wishing that I had seen this recipe beforehand. Oh, the marvel! Oh, the glory! Makes me proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free to die of clogged arteries, maybe even before my teeth fall out from all the corn syrup I eat. Click and adore.

P.S. Follow-on to my post a few days ago about other records I was listening to: Kala by M.I.A. is superb and highly recommended, a weird stew of beats and textures from the Indian Subcontinent, swinging England and your favorite club that plays Pussycat Dolls and Missy Elliot songs all night long. Boxer by The National is solid and engaging in a fairly low-key way, but is definitely worth a listen if you like mid-tempo rockers with deep baritone vocals, excellent drums, and a sort of slurring whirl of guitars, basses (bowed and plucked) and keyboards in between. Panda Bear’s Person Pitch seems engaging on first listen, but then gets overly-precious and self-indulgent really quickly, like even before you finish it the first time. After two listens, I rated it “pretentious twaddle” and stopped listening further. Recommended if you need something to put under the leg of your coffee table or desk because it is wobbly.

Lists: The Sign of a Tidy Mind

I like movies and music.

A lot.

And I also like lists of movies and music.

A whole lot.

Even before I worked as a critic and actually got paid to compare things to other things, I tended to experience new things through my old thing filter, wresting with whether the new thing was better or worse than the old thing. It wasn’t good enough to decide that it was different. Order was important. Hierarchy equally so. Still is. I’ve even imparted this to my daughter: whenever we see a movie or hear a new record, she’ll generally ask “What did you like best?” And by the time she does, I’ve generally already figured out the answer.

Movies are a great thing to rate and list. Netflix tells me that I have rated 1,422 movies since I became a member a year or so ago. I’m pretty stingy with my five-star (highest) reviews: they have to be movies that move me profoundly, and I have to be willing to watch them more than once, which is rare for me. I’ve only got 22 of them: 1.4% of the ones I have an opinion about. Here’s the ones I’ve accorded such acclaim to date:

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)

All That Jazz (1979)

Blade Runner (1982)

Brazil (1985)

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, Her Lover (1989)

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

Dead Man (1995)

Do the Right Thing (1989)

Don’t Look Now (1973)

Eraserhead (1977)

The Fountain (2006)

The Great Dictator (1940)

Mulholland Drive (2001)

Network (1976)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

The Piano Teacher (2002)

Seconds (1966)

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)

When We Were Kings (1996)

A Zed & Two Noughts (1985)

I also regularly tweak my list of all time favorite albums. As of its last iteration, the top 20 looked like this:

1. Brian Eno, Here Come the Warm Jets (1974)

2. Jethro Tull, A Passion Play (1973)

3. Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Tarkus (1971)

4. Steely Dan, Aja (1977)

5. Butthole Surfers, Hairway to Steven (1988)

6. Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)

7. The Birthday Party, Junkyard (1982)

8. Bauhaus, The Sky’s Gone Out (1982)

9. Dogbowl, Flan (1992)

10. Pere Ubu, Terminal Tower (1985)

11. Public Enemy, Fear of a Black Planet (1990)

12. Coil, Love’s Secret Domain (1991)

13. Marty Robbins, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs (1959)

14. The Fall, The Unutterable (2000)

15. Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

16. Cypress Hill, Cypress Hill (1991)

17. Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, Element of Light (1986)

18. Warren Zevon, Life’ll Kill Ya (2000)

19. Human Sexual Response, In a Roman Mood (1981)

20. Max Eider, The Best Kisser in the World (1987)

See how tidy everything gets when you list it all out for clarity?

New PE in the House

I mentioned the formidable Public Enemy in my re-print post a couple of weeks ago about the odious Beastie Boys. When I did it, I hadn’t realized that they had a new album out: How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul? Of course, once I did realize it, I downloaded it pronto and have had it on heavy rotation during the long daily commute. I’m gonna call this one the best record they’ve put out since Apocalypse ’91 . . . The Enemy Strikes Black. Superb riffs and beats, with Chuck D in typically fine form throughout. There’s a few clunkers, but overall, this is a solid disc, even if it does snatch some cuts from Flavor Flav’s solo album, Hollywood. It works, it makes me think, and it rocks mighty hard. That’s all I need, please and thanks.

I’ve also been digging new-ish discs by M.I.A. (Kala), The National (Boxer) and Panda Bear (Person Pitch). Maybe fuller reviews later. I got real work to do tonight, and can’t procrastinate much longer if I plan to sleep much tonight.

I Am the King

Of Scrabble, that is. Or at least I was, briefly. My sister-in-law is visiting from Minneapolis this weekend, so she, Marcia and I played Scrabble tonight over a delicious plate of antipasto and several bottles of wine, and in the first game, I actually played the word “QUETZAL,” which the official Scrabble Players Dictionary notes is a Mexican bird (and which is also, coincidentally, the name of my sister’s appalling rat dog), on a double word/triple letter combo platter that gave me mad points, so that I crushed the competition, and won the right to boast (as I do here) about my Scrabbling prowess for using the Q and the Z in a word other than “QUIZ.” Of course, the two of them demanded a re-play/re-match afterwards, in which I finished a distant third, which is my normal position if three of us are playing such games.

Marcia (and her siblings) are terrifically competitive, whereas I’m kinda sorta not, when it comes to games, so the ideal scenario in Chateau Smith is for me to lead throughout a hard-fought game until the last play, when Marcia leaps ahead of me and wins by a single point, so that I’m happy because we had a engaging battle, and she is happy, because she won. Hence . . . my gloating over winning with “QUETZAL,” because in several hundred Scrabble games that Marcia and I have played together over the years, the number that I have won is quite small, especially with such an impressive word having been deployed on the road to victory. Shall I type it again, just out of pride? I shall. “QUETZAL.” Read it and weep, Scrabble nerds.

And speaking of (space) nerds . . . check out the Cassini-Huygens link to the right to get the latest scoop on Titan and Iapetus. Mind-blowing. Skull-exploding. Consciousness-expanding. I love love love me some Cassini-Huygens. Love, I say! LOVE! (And QUETZAL!)

Fear of White Radio (From the Archives)

On the occasion of learning that the Beastie Boys have been nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I delve into my own archives to reprint a piece from several years ago explaining my distaste for them and the radio stations that shove them down our throats.

Man, it’s really time that somebody pushed the B.S. button on the Beastie Boys, and on the “Modern Rock” radio stations that play their music.

I was dial surfing while driving around a couple of days ago and stopped on the local “Modern Rock” station right around the time that they were doing their daily Top Five countdown. Four of the songs were what you’d expect: Disturbed or Staind or bands that sound like Disturbed or Staind. The fifth song, however, was the new single by the Beastie Boys, and (like most of their songs) it was a simplistic “old school” rap song, with those ever-annoying Beastie voices yelling at each other on top of the rudimentary musical bed.

Now, I could have listened to that “modern rock” station all day, and would I have heard any other old school rap songs, or any other contemporary rap or hip hop music? Maybe another Beastie Boys song or two. And maybe (just maybe) an Eminem number. But nothing else. So why were the Beastie Boys (and maybe, just maybe, Eminem) being played there?

Because they’re white.

Outkast or Jay-Z or Ludacris or any of the many wonderful Wu Tang members or the always-potent Public Enemy or Doctor Dre (without Eminem as his Modern Rock radio mouthpiece) or Snoop or any other popular African-American rap/hip-hop artist could put out or cover that exact same Beastie Boys song, and it would not get played on Modern Rock Radio.

So does that mean that Modern Rock Radio is somewhat racially biased in its programming? I think it is. Which probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

“But,” I hear you say, rising to corporate rock radio’s defense, “Modern Rock radio plays lots of Lenny Kravitz! How can they be racist?”

They play Lenny Kravitz because Lenny offers what their demographically average, 20-something, white rock radio listener would consider to be “white music,” exploiting the Jimi Hendrix/Thin Lizzy loophole to commercial rock radio acceptability.

The classic Public Enemy song “Fear of A Black Planet” had a little vocal riff in the middle that boiled racial anxiety down to a simple expression of math and genetics:

“Black man, black woman: black baby.
White man, white woman: white baby.
White man, black woman: black baby.
Black man, white woman: black baby.”

I think Modern Rock radio follows a similar model:

“White artist, white music: white radio.
Black artist, white music: white radio.
White artist, black music: white radio.
Black artist, black music: black radio.”

So if you’re an African-American artist making music that the demographically average, white rock radio listener (or programming director) would consider to be “black music,” then there’s evidently no place for you in “white” radio formats like Modern Rock, and apparently you can only appear on pop, R&B, rap or “urban” demographic radio stations. Which is just plain wrong.

Of course, I know there’s not really any such thing as “white music” and “black music,” so I’m using shorthand there, but I hope you get the gist of the point I’m trying to make: that there’s clearly a double standard being applied to programming decisions being made on modern rock radio today, and there has been for many years.

And the Beastie Boys are the living, breathing embodiment of this. If they’re all you know about contemporary rap, then you’re doing yourself an amazing disservice as far as exposure to quality music goes. As are the radio stations who serve them to you aside your daily doses of Staind and Disturbed.

So I suggest you call your local Modern Rock Radio station the next time you hear them play the Beastie Boys and request “Fear of A Black Planet” by Public Enemy . . . then make them explain to you why they can’t or won’t play that song.

It should be an interesting rationalization, I would think.

While I’m Thinking About It

Right before I started blogging here at sunny Times Union Estates, I scored a copy of Trans Am’s juicy 2007 album Sex Change. While it’s never really thrilled me so intensely that I’ve felt compelled to gush about it, it has remained on my regular rotation of car CD’s for the better part of eight months, and I still tend to turn the stereo up any time one of its songs pops up on the computer jukebox, so the album must be doing something right for me, in its own slow and low key way. Mostly instrumental, Sex Change blends analog synths and power trio panache into a neat genre frappe in which funky and rocky and cheesy elements all co-exist happily and effectively. It’s a charming record, though it’s charms may be slow to reveal themselves.