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November 2004
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January 2005

schwag

I know, it's not in the xmas spirit to talk about this, but everyone's doing it. Among the items that turned up yesterday:

The 300 gig hard drive ... well, OK, we opened that earlier.

Hella DVDs. Neal got me the last Lord of the Rings box ... he went all the way, got me some super-sized one with a model of a castle included. Steve Fore came through once again with an astonishing array of HK discs ... I won't say anything about their legality. There's a six-disc box set of anime from Studio Ghibli that has a dozen or so movies, three other anime films, and the new Wong Kar Wai, 2046, that as far as I know hasn't even made it to American screens, much less DVD. Robin got a couple, too, from me: Meet the Feebles and the Criterion Time Bandits.

Then there were cool books, cool Elvis artifacts, cool massage ... definitely a heavy-on-the-cool xmas so far!


teevee 2004

Here's another summary of stuff I wrote about this year, once again in chronological order:

The L-Word. I had to watch it, and I'll probably be there for Season Two, but this wasn't much of a show. Most lesbians I know watch it, apparently on the theory that if it exists, it must be supported. Not too many people of any stripe seem to like it, though. And rumors about Season Two lead me to expect it to be worse than last year.

The Daily Show. The top teevee show of the year from a cult-studies standpoint, the funniest show of the year unless you want to vote for Chappelle, the most necessary show of the year during the election, and now what?

Janet Jackson. Can't say I care, but it was the single most talked-about teevee moment of the year, so let me add my few words worth.

Chappelle Show. Apparently, inconsistency is the hobgoblin of these kinds of shows, but when it worked, there was nothing funnier than this one. Overrated, like all of these kinds of shows are, because it will look terrific in best-of anthologies in the future.

NYPD Blue. My essay will be out next year, and the final season has been the best in several years. Going out in style, if not at the top of its game. Charlotte Ross, R.I.P.

Sex and the City. Excellent final episode, but in the end, I think this series was short of classic status. Which is no insult, but others would disagree with my assessment.

Curb Your Enthusiasm. Great punchline to the season, great use of Muggsy Bogues. Otherwise, the worst season so far.

The Sopranos. Some people say it's not as good as it used to be, because people always say that. They're wrong ... this is one of the most consistently excellent shows of all time.

The Shield. The most repulsive show I watch on a regular basis. Can't wait to see what Glenn Close adds to the mix.

Cancelled series. I've always got plenty of these ... a tip of the cap to Karen Sisco, Wonderfalls, and Dead Like Me.

Deadwood. The best new show of the year, already a classic, will be forever known as the series that made "cocksucker" a household word. At least, HBO households.

24. They keep playing the same trick on the audience, we keep falling for it.

Queer As Folk. My favorite Showtime series, and the definition of a guilty pleasure, meaning it's not all that good but I love it anyway.

Joan of Arcadia. Easily the winner of the "I Can't Believe Steven Watches This Show" contest. Amber Tamblyn is great, the show is only good, but that's plenty.

The Wire. Do I need to say any more? I just hope I've got a Season Four to write about.

Entourage. Not much, will probably still watch, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else.

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. He got his own DVD this year. If you're one of the three people in the universe that I didn't give this to, let me know and I'll send you a copy.

Rescue Me. The second-best guy show on FX. That means it's better than you think, if not quite as good as Denis Leary thinks.

Penn and Teller: Bullshit!. The libertarianism was a bit much this season.

Lost and Desperate Housewives. These shows have very little in common, but they're always mentioned together because, as popular new series on ABC, they are credited with saving the network or some such thing. Desperate Housewives is less than it appears ... too many of the characters are predictable, especially for a show that likes to spring surprises, and not enough of those characters are likable. Lost is much better ... it's stupid as hell, but as with 24, it doesn't matter.

The Office. The Xmas special wasn't quite as good as the series itself, and Season Two was almost unbearable in its merciless destruction of the "hero." A great series.

Comcast. The big additions this year were On Demand, a catalog of stuff available 24/7 (Sara caught up with Sex and the City this way), and the DVR, which brings TiVo-like function to the cable box. The latter changed the way we watch teevee, just like everyone said it would. Everyone should get a DVR.

Huff and House. Not sure I actually wrote anything about these shows. Both are one-syllable shows that start with an H and are named after the lead character, who is a doctor. Huff is a psychiatrist and he's on Showtime, so it's got more cussing and more pretensions. It's a typical Showtime series: pretty good, worth watching even, but not up to HBO standards. House is a doctor, played brilliantly by Hugh Laurie, who is pretty much the most misanthropic character ever to lead a regular series. The show is formulaic, but Laurie makes it all worthwhile.

The Top Five Teevee Things of 2004 are:

The Wire
DVR
Deadwood
The Daily Show
The Shield

The last one isn't really in the Top Five, but I thought I'd post a few clips from my Shield comments of 2004, just to show what a fine upstanding show it is:

March 10: "I'm happily watching a third season, but I'll be damned if I can tell you what I get out of it."

March 31: "Michael Chiklis looks like a walking penis, and The Shield is a primer on what the world would be like if dicks ran things.... The Shield won't let up for even ten seconds, won't let the audience have even a few moments of pleasure, even when they set up a punchline guaranteed to elicit enjoyment they have to mess it up with crud. What a great show!"

April 7, a post titled "what a cesspool." "The Shield is just brutal.... It's just vile, week after week after week. I can't think of a show in my entire life that was simultaneously engrossing and made you want to take a shower after you've watched it."

May 19, a post titled "more sick shield shit (spoilers)." "This week, David Mamet directed the episode. But that wasn't the sick part. The sick part ... well, the sickest part ... came in the last scene, when one of the regulars strangled a cat with his bare hands. I think he liked it. Every person on this show is a sick bastard."


ralph j. gleason

Joel Selvin has a terrific piece in today's Chronicle about Ralph J. Gleason, which I highly recommend. Who is RJG, you ask? I'll let Selvin explain:

He started one of the first magazines about jazz. He was the first full-time jazz critic on a daily newspaper in this country. At a time when there were practically no books on the subject, he wrote the history of jazz on the back of album covers, writing literally hundreds of liner notes in the golden age of long-playing albums.

He was the cofounder of the Monterey Jazz Festival and cofounder of Rolling Stone magazine. When Lou Adler and John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas wanted to throw the Monterey Pop Festival, they traveled north to kiss the Gleason ring, knowing they couldn't hope to pull it off without his approval.

He was the defender and friend of Lenny Bruce, the chronicler and confidant of Duke Ellington, a man who wrote poetry for Miles Davis albums, hosted John Coltrane and Bob Dylan on television and produced one of the best country and western movies ever made. He was a vigilant defender of free speech and an outspoken lefty who understood that music and politics were inextricably linked. He made Nixon's enemies list.

His trademark trench coat hangs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

That good enough for you?

Since Gleason wrote for the Chronicle, he was a regular part of my formative years. Since he was a part of Rolling Stone from the beginning, he was a regular part of my formative years. Since he was local, he was a regular part of my formative years. OK, you get the picture. When Gleason died, only a couple of months after Tom Donahue passed away, it was like my own personal version of the 60s had crumbled.

He was given to emotional writing, and he was always better at talking about what he liked than what he didn't ... he was effusive with praise, let's put it that way. A great writer? Well, his widow closes the Selvin piece by claiming "He was not a good writer. He wrote about interesting things.," and that about gets it. He was good enough, that's plenty, and he was an influential figure in his day. A few years ago, when I was teaching at Cal, I got in contact with one of his granddaughters, who had written about him for her senior thesis. She was kind enough to let me read it, and it was a delight to see RJG through the eyes of an offspring. She wrote it because she'd heard so much about him, but didn't know him personally. Now she knows. And if you read Selvin's piece, you'll know a little bit, too.


music 2004

Here's my list of 2004 music items, as first described in this blog, in chronological order.

"On Demand" music services. I've listened to Internet radio for years, but 2004 was the year when on-demand radio made a splash. For most of the year I used Rhapsody for this, although in the last week or so I've switched to MusicMatch. While most people still focus on the downloading capabilities of online music services, and think "Internet radio" means something similar to satellite radio networks, I'm fascinated by those programs that allow you to stream songs by choice. That is, if you want to hear "San Diego Shutdown" by Los Straitjackets, you can. Your choices are limited only by the catalog of the provider, and those catalogs are huge ... not the ideal of Every Song Ever Recorded (the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, for instance, are still missing), but getting closer every day. They say you can put your entire music collection on an iPod ... with on demand radio, you can put everyone's entire music collection on your computer.

The Grey Album by Danger Mouse. The underground fad of mash-ups has mostly passed me by ... hey, I'm 51 years old, sue me ... but it was hard to miss Danger Mouse, who took an acapella version of Jay-Z's Black Album and gave it a musical backing track by merging stuff from the Beatles White Album. It was something of an Internet hit, and a few copies were even pressed before EMI told Danger Mouse to "cease and desist." He did, but the publicity meant even geezers like me knew about the album, and of course, those of us who hadn't already done so proceeded to download it ... thanks for the tip, EMI!

Pink Nasty. I ordered her album directly from the artist, and got an email from Ms. Nasty that began "dude i totally just sent you a copy." The full tale is here. Cordially, as always.

Career Trajectories. For some reason, the induction of Bob Seger into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inspired a series of posts on the aging process and rockers' career trajectories. There were so many posts it's pointless to list them here ... the first was March 17, if you're interested in the starting point, and then I took it up with a vengeance in late April. My theory, which I think I "proved," is that rock and rollers peak early in their career, usually by their mid-30s at the latest, and there are very few rock and rollers who continue to get better throughout the aging process. I have no idea why this is true.

Sleater-Kinney at the Fillmore. It was S-K show #10 for Jillian and I, S-K show #1 for Sean and Geoff (whose birthday it was). They were much less audience-friendly this time around, which mattered, but aside from that, they were as ferocious as I'd ever seen them, inspiring me to write "I never thought I'd say this, but tonight, Sleater-Kinney was as great a live band as the Clash."

The Rio Karma. Everyone gets an iPod, I know, so many in fact that "iPod" is becoming a word like "kleenex" that stands in for everything of its kind. Several years ago, I was the first person I knew to get a portable MP3 player ... it was a Diamond Rio 500 or something, it had enough memory to play a little more than one album's worth of tunes, and I loved it. So when I took the MP3 hard drive plunge, I returned to Rio, and now I have 20 gigabytes of tunes wherever I go. Combine my Karma with on-demand streaming radio, and you've got the End of Albums As We Know Them. I couldn't tell you my top 10 albums of 2004 if I took a month to research it, but I can easily tell you my top 250 songs just by asking my Karma. Singles are back.

Elvis in Emeryville. As part of the promotion for a new DVD boxset of Elvis' television concerts, several theaters across the country played a bunch of '68 Special material at a one-night-only affair. We were there, of course, and it was a blast. And we weren't alone ... the theater was close to full, and the crowd was a delightful blend of hardcore Elvis fans and ... well, that's probably all that was there, but they were fun.

Prince in San Jose. Neal decided we had to go, and by the time the dust settled, Robin and Sara and Sean were also there. It was my first time seeing Prince in 16 years, and it was a terrific show, if perhaps too nostalgic. I've always ranked Prince in my Top Three Live Acts, and this show did nothing to change my mind.

Willie Nelson in Berkeley. A couple of weeks later, Robin and I had great seats to see Willie at the Berkeley Community Theatre. It was our first Willie Nelson show, and to be honest probably our last, but I'm sure glad we went ... it was a genial affair, a chance to see a legend, we had a great time. And as a bonus, opening act Lucinda Williams gave the loosest show we have ever seen from her.

Iris DeMent. Her new album isn't great ... it's the same voice and commitment, but a batch of gospel tunes isn't what I'm looking for from this noted agnostic. But it had been so long since she released an album, this was an event worth noting.

Well, that's ten items, and these are usually Top Ten lists, aren't they? I guess I should note the 2004 albums I actually got "as albums" ... might not even be ten of them, it's the Singles Era revisited, remember? This becomes a de facto best-of list ... ok, a few of these were gifts, but the idea that I still managed to get a handful of albums in the 21st century says something:

Conroy-DeBrie, Three Songs
Danger Mouse, The Grey Album
Iris DeMent, Lifeline
Bob Dylan, Live 1964
k.d. lang, Hymns of the 49th Parallel
Jon Langford, All the Fame of Lofty Deeds
Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose
Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Love Bad News
The Mountain Goats, We Shall All Be Healed
Mr. Airplane Man, C'mon DJ
Prince, Musicology
Todd Snider, East Nashville Skyline
The Streets, A Grand Don't Come for Free
Kanye West, The College Dropout
Brian Wilson, Smile

If I had to rank them, I'd say my two faves were the Streets and Kanye West. And if I had to pick a few of those thousands of singles that I really really liked from 2004, I'd say this was the Top Five:

1. The Streets, "Fit But You Know It"
2. Scissor Sisters, "Take Your Mama"
3. Franz Ferdinand, "Take Me Out"
4. Usher, "Yeah!"
5. The Von Bondies, "C'mon C'mon" (the best teevee theme song of the year) (Rescue Me, for the 100% of you that didn't watch that show)

What did I forget?


pix

I've been remiss lately about posting pictures, a fact that confronted me when I checked out the camera before the upcoming holiday. So here's a few of various family members. First, Bob and Carol (no Ted or Alice):

bob and carol

How about Robin and Nikki?

robin and nikki

And here are my two brothers, the older one, Geoff:

geoff

And the younger one, David:

david


really dead like me

Word is that Showtime has canceled Dead Like Me after two seasons. It wasn't a top-tier show, but I gave the second season a B+, and it was one of the best things on Showtime. Robin will have to get her Mandy Patinkin fix somewhere else from now on.

Annalee had a piece last week about how much she misses Joss Whedon, Mr. Buffy, who doesn't have any shows on teevee right now. I'd say she's definitely right about missing Buffy, even if the show was on its last legs by the time it retired. After Buffy went off the air, a plethora of shows turned up about young women/girls with superpowers of one sort or another. Wonderfalls lasted a few episodes ... Tru Calling (with ex-slayer Eliza Dushku) made it through a season but hasn't been heard from for awhile ... Dead Like Me's gone now ... only Joan of Arcadia remains, and its ratings are down. Some are touting Veronica Mars as the new Buffy, but she doesn't really fit here because she lacks superpowers, plus I don't watch it so I can't really comment on it. I don't really have a point, except that all of these shows put together are no match for Buffy at its best.