Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Days the Music Died

My big problem is this: I enjoy attending concerts. The type of show and style of venue has varied greatly throughout my tenure as a concert-goer, but I always have seemed to find a way to attract agitation at every single one of these events. For example, my first ever concert was a celebration of the music of Busta Rhymes. This is fitting, as Busta’s “The Coming” was also my first CD ever, but I found the real thing to be infinitely more annoying (but I guess with this artist, I should have seen it coming). As an appetizer, we were all given the comedic hip-hop stylings of a really, really, implausibly bad rap group who were called (I think) Seventeenth Story, or something forgetfully similar. There were countless young black males bouncing around on stage like the little rubber balls you get in the quarter machines at the grocery store, only these particular rubber balls were dressed in Fubu and grunting out timeless hip-hop jargon such as “yeah” and “throw them hands up.” This ridiculous opening act, paired with the unpleasant odor of marijuana, unclean people, and Caucasian adolescents singing along with every single “N-word," frustrated me to no end. I was unsure if I ever wanted to attend a concert again. I seriously questioned my love for music after this particular show.

I, however, had no choice but to attend another concert the very next evening, as it was a show for Incubus, my favorite band at the time. I was confident that this event would be much less annoying, as the negative qualities of the previous night’s poor excuse for entertainment were not regularly associated with the rock genre. What I failed to realize was that rock ‘n roll provides a whole new Pandora’s Box just full of exasperations. This time, the problem was the Deftones fans. This concert went down in 2000, which was before Incubus had gone platinum with “Make Yourself,” so they were actually opening up for the Deftones, who were a more popular group at the time. Diehard Deftones fans are invariably frightening. They wear all-black clothing, shave their eyebrows, and smoke cigarettes. Okay, so maybe they wouldn’t be all that scary one at a time, but put yourself in a room full of 2,000 people like this, and you’d fear for your life. I swore that at some point in the evening I was going to see a particularly terrifying goth kid bite the face off one of the people standing near him, then offer the bloodied corpse as a sacrifice to Satan and his fiery kingdom of Gahenna. If Vegas took bets on it, there would be like 10 to 1 odds that at least one person in your immediate vicinity was a practicing sexual dominatrix. Incubus was, of course, amazing, but as soon as the Deftones got on stage and started shrieking out unintelligible yelps of crappy lyrics, my buddy and I got the hell out of there. It was too much like those creepy techno vampire dance parties that happen in "Blade" movies.

The point is that no matter what concert I attend, there always seems to be some way that I may be provoked to annoyance. I’m not here to bash Busta Rhymes, the Deftones, or any of their fans. I’m just trying to make the point that it makes no difference who is performing, the concert experience can prove to be extremely lame under any of a plethora of conditions. I love music, and I love hearing it live, but it had come to a point where I had to decide how I was going to further my career as an attendee of live music. This potential decision luckily coincided with my discovery of John Mayer and Jack Johnson, mostly acoustic artists whose style was so low-key and respectable that a live show would be not only be bearable, but enjoyable. Up until recently, I was right.

Over the last three years, the majority of the concerts that I have attended have been for solo acoustic artists, and this last weekend, I went with Amy and my siblings to see a Dave Barnes/Jon McLaughlin show at Schuba’s in Chicago. Both guys are pretty low-key, mostly crooning love songs over acoustic guitar and piano. It’s really good stuff, and I’ve seen Barnes before, so I expected that this would be a great, low-key show. Schuba’s doesn’t blow you out of the room with their volume like most other venues do. For example, I once attended a Green Day concert and was clinically deaf for most of 2001. Schuba’s isn’t like that, and acoustic artists aren’t exactly rock-you-out, Rolling-Stones-volume types of guys anyway. Needless to say, I was in the mood for a nice, relaxing show, when I heard the excruciating yelps of the mob of adolescent young ladies to my immediate right. It was like those damn yapping seagulls from “Finding Nemo” had dressed themselves in halter tops, bleached their hair blonde, and completely stripped themselves of self-confidence and dignity. They were there to see Jon McLaughlin, the opener, and they all experienced simultaneous orgasms every time McLaughlin scratched his nose. My sister and my girlfriend tried shooting them the Evil Girl Look, which has turned countless men to lumps of inanimate pulp, but their gazes apparently had no effect on those with similar estrogenic levels.

Luckily, when the opener was done, the girls split, probably to give Jon McLaughlin a police lineup-style choice of whom he wished to have sexually please him that particular night. It was a good thing they did, because everybody in the entire ROOM was ready to perform a torturous execution (a la “Braveheart”) if they didn’t shut up and get out of there soon. I guess this isn’t much to complain about because the rest of the show was super, and it was great to have spent an evening with some of my favorite folks. The point here, people, is that you should all try to be considerate when attending any sort of public form of entertainment. People have paid good money to enjoy themselves, and they don’t want silly teenage girls loudly working out their hormonal issues right in front of everybody. Enjoy yourself, but do so respectfully. If you don’t, I know a large number of Deftones fans who know where you live.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Cupid Finally Hits a Homer in his 22nd at Bat

In the past, Valentine’s Day has been nothing but a canker for me, as I’ve had to deal with either my pathetic solidarity, or with miles and miles of distance keeping me apart from my lady of choice. The last time I was excited about Valentine’s Day, I had a pocketful of Ninja Turtle cards to drop into my classmates’ sticker-and-construction-paper-clad shoeboxes. But that was ages ago; I’m not a senior in high school anymore. As an adult with mature emotions, I have long lacked the naivety that always allowed me to be completely oblivious to the fact that not having a girlfriend was supposed to turn me into a depressive blob of human flesh on the 14th of February. As a kid, I wasn’t yet aware of the fact that as an unattached person, I was supposed to cry to the point of dehydration and sulk in a dark corner somewhere, sucking on bon-bons and watching my Stories.

I think my misery came to light once I got into college, where people start to become old enough to really enjoy Valentine’s Day. I remember being a freshman and sitting in my dorm room with Dale, discussing the matter. He had quit on life for the evening and honestly didn’t seem to mind the fact that he was missing out on the Day of Love (this, of course, is for the sole reason that he is Dale Coerper, Jr., a man with a black heart that contains no love. Seriously, Simon Cowell is more sympathetic). I, on the other hand, after having tried a few different prospects, was without a date and was utterly bummed. Dale, being the great friend he is (sound the sarcasm alarm), thought that playing some slow love songs would cheer me up. I remember saying the following: “I hate sappy love songs. They reinforce the loneliness.”

But, at some point, I was pretty confident that I would outsmart the loneliness, and lo and behold, I’ve finally done it! I’ve struck gold with my most recent girlfriend, Amy, and those of you who keep close contact with me know that I’m absolutely wild about this one. I’d be writing a dissertation if I explained all the things that I love about her, but believe me when I say she’s a keeper. She’s funny, she’s smart, and she’s gorgeous. We agree on big issues, and we’re both willing to compromise. That should be enough tangible evidence to prove that she’s a good’n!

Well, this was our first Valentine’s Day together, and because it was my very first one of note, I found myself to be extremely excited by the time the 14th finally rolled around. I had gone out to Borders to get Amy a gift, and I ended up with significantly more than one because my imagination just kept nagging at me with ideas! I probably went a little crazier than was necessary (think a kid being offered a bowl of candy and being told to pick just one piece. Then imagine this kid looking sort of confusedly at the adult, like “One? You’re obviously kidding.” Then, like a flash of lightning, he rips his hand into the bowl, grabbing whatever he can, and darts off into the horizon, a little happy streak of content. Yeah, that was me in Borders buying Amy’s gifts), but I don’t regret it at all. She loved all of the stuff I got her. So I was geeked about Cupid Day. Sue me.

For dinner we went to a place in Bloomington called Central Station, per suggestion of one Mr. Jesse Magenheimer. Jesse is like my own personal connoisseur de restaurants because not only has he lived in the area his entire life, he’s been to damn near every eatery within an 80 mile radius of Illinois Wesleyan’s campus. When he suggests a place, I can be pretty sure that it’s going to be good. In the case of Central Station, he was definitely on target. I had these insanely delicious pork chops that were cooked in wine, and Amy had a 4-cheese, 4-meat lasagna the likes of which I have never experienced in my 22.7 years of living. These meals characterized the term “delectable.” I’m salivating by merely recollecting such morsels. Mmm… morsels…

The meal was good, but the grand finale bordered on absurd. We ordered a dessert with the intention to split it, but the thing we got was relatively small, so we were unsure whether or not it would satisfy both of us. It was called The Chocolate Volcano (or something like that) and was about the size of a baseball. It consisted of a very moist chocolate cake, hot fudge, and chocolate shell. I shoveled in about two bites and instantly felt as if I had just swallowed about three Dakota Fannings. It’s like Central Station had a machine in back that compressed an elephants weight in chocolate into a treat the size of a drink coaster. A couple nibbles and I had had my fill. It was delicious, but I don’t think I’ll be able to eat chocolate for at least two or three more presidencies.

Between the dinner, the gift exchanges (I got the Back to the Future trilogy on DVD and a stuffed TY dog we named Gordon in honor of our favorite Chicago Bull), and the sweet, sweet surprise that Amy set up for me for when I get off of work, it was easily the greatest Valentine’s Day of my life. It’s just nice when you plan a day out to go a certain way, and everything works out exactly the way you want it to. Since then, Amy and I have been riding this emotional high that I hope sticks around. She’s been telling me how lucky she feels to have me, and I’ve definitely been feeling that way for a while. It’s almost funny to me how she is about it, like she’s stunned that I would treat her so well. But then I think back to a quote I once read, which says, “Behind every great man, is a surprised woman.”

Hopefully neither one of us stops feeling so pleasantly astonished.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Emasculation of the Super Bowl

There is a certain sequence of rituals that takes place when a man watches football with his friends. These include, but are not limited to, guzzling beer, belching stridently, scratching personal areas, and most importantly, discussing the intricacies of the contest at hand and the game of football in general. Like most rituals, this is sacred, and when one of these necessary occasions becomes excluded, football-watching males become irritable, start frothing out at the mouth, and attack small island villages, burning down huts and seizing the area’s finest women and cheeses.

I am a man, and these rituals are part of what makes football so enjoyable for me. For example, last year my weekly football haven was in the suite of a few friends of mine who had set up a CNN-style news center with about 4 different televisions, each playing a different game of football (actually, one TV was usually reserved for the X-box. A lot of my fellow football-watchers were Halo freaks). We used small refrigerators filled with Sam Adams and Bud Light as end tables, and there was even a dartboard set up across the room to entertain us during commercials. There was never a shortage alcohol, football, or crude language. It was a beautiful thing.

I have since graduated from college, and all of my gridiron-loving amigos have moved on as well, migrating as far away as South Carolina (one friend of mine even quit his job and has discussed the possibility of moving to New Zealand. Really). So, I have been left without my revered tradition, the effects of which were especially painful come Super Bowl weekend. I had no men with which to share the game, so I started trying to accept the fact that I would be watching the greatest event in sports by myself.

My girlfriend (bless her heart) picked up on my slightly dejected demeanor and offered me her own company on Super Bowl Sunday. I had never spent a Super Bowl with a woman, so I was a bit skeptical, but with none of the usual suspects available, and such a sweet offer on the table, I happily accepted. I was just grateful to have company for the big game, but I could do nothing but guess as to how the day would play out…

Sometime during the pre-game show, Amy’s roommate called while she and I were watching the starting lineups, and since the ‘mate was bummed out with some man problems, she invited her over so that Amy could keep her company. Now, not only was I watching the Super Bowl with a GIRL, but I was also going to be outnumbered 2-to-1! Hiking up my pants and slapping my baseball cap on backwards, I prepared myself for the overwhelming quantity of estrogen that was about to invade my apartment. This was going to be interesting.

Amber (the roommate) arrived as the game began, and we of course had to spend a little bit of time discussing the extent to which her current man of choice was unfavorable. Women are an extremely supportive species; they would assassinate the prime ministers of most eastern countries if they slept with The Best Friend and never called her back. This particular instance of male heartlessness is a vague spot in my memory, mostly because I was hoping for the conversation to end from the very millisecond it began.

The thing about women is (and I remember, I love them) they don’t have even a remote understanding of when something important is happening at a sporting event. This particular conversation about Amber's man troubles continued through the first few minutes of the first quarter, and I know for a fact that, at the time, neither one of them comprehended the magnanimousness of the opening minutes of this football game. See, when women root for a team, they don’t cheer and clap because the team is doing well; they cheer and clap because they think that team’s colors are pretty or the quarterback is cute. In this instance, Amy rooted for the Eagles because that is whom I wanted to win, and as my girlfriend, she felt a loyalty to my team of choice. Amber, on the other hand, was rooting for the Patriots because she thought Tom Brady was hot.

Tom Brady was actually a sympathetic subject for the girls throughout the game since the announcers made sure it was known that Brady’s 97 year-old grandmother had died earlier in the week. This constant reminder caused my lady guests to occasionally display very sad-looking faces and sprinkle “awww’s” throughout the duration of the game. As a man, my exact thoughts about Brady’s situation was, “Grandma died, and that means one of two things: 1. He’s got extra motivation to win one for Grammie, or 2. He’s going to be so upset about her dying that he’ll play horribly, giving the Eagles a better chance for victory.” Let’s compare. I was thinking THAT, and the girls were thinking, “that’s so sad.” I just wanted to make sure we all saw the difference there.

To the girls’ credit, they really wanted to understand the game, so they asked a lot of questions. As a teacher, I had no choice but to instinctually instruct them on the basic rules of the game. To explain the concept of “downs” as the way to move the ball down the field, I used the word “try” instead of “down.” They got the point, but unfortunately called every down a “try” for the rest of the contest. There was also an instance where one of the girls asked me what a running back was. I answered, “he’s the guy that runs the ball.” Naturally, they responded, “don’t they ALL run with the ball?” So, I had to explain to them difference between a running back and a wide receiver. For the rest of the day, we had “3rd try and 6 yards left,” “running people,” and “catching people.” To their credit, they knew what a quarterback was, and they immediately picked up on the concept of the blitz. Still, we developed a whole new unisex football jargon in about a half hour that will probably be used by these two girls from now until the Cubs win a pennant. They were good sports about it. You gotta love ‘em.

All-in-all, the night went pretty smoothly. There was a brief confrontation at the end of halftime when the girls wanted to watch the end of America’s Funniest Home Videos, and I wanted to watch the start of the 3rd quarter, but the pigskin prevailed. Other than that, Amy and The Ber were quite pleasant company, and it really wasn’t too bad of a Super Bowl. Granted, there was no beer, flatulence, or scratching, but there was definitely football, food, and good company.

Besides, without women, how would you ever get somebody to ask what many people have suspected since the 90s (we can thank Amber for this one): “Is Troy Aikman gay?”

God bless estrogen.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

...Fool Me Twice, Shame on Christian Music

Jesus music is getting sneakier. At one point, you could easily identify a Christian rock song on the radio within 20 seconds of listening to it and then breeze right past that particular station (usually something like “88-point-7, WGOD, The God! Songs of Salvation to Soothe the Soul!). Usually, you would hear a whiny front man, probably blonde and well-built, singing a painfully religious chorus like “Our God is glorious, glorious” or “Praise be to our Lord and Savior.” I could almost respect Jesus music back then. They weren’t trying to hide anything; they were just annoyingly happy to be praising Christ at every waking hour of the day.

Nowadays, these Christian artists are much trickier and stealthier. I was driving home from work the other day, and I found a station playing a new song that I had never heard before. It had a catchy hip-hop beat, so I let it play. The next song was an also unfamiliar and somewhat beguiling alternative rock song, so I continued to leave it on the current station. It wasn’t until a commercial break about ten minutes later that I realized it was a CHRISTIAN station. I had been hoodwinked! Bamboozled!

Some would say, “But Joel, you shouldn’t be upset about such things. You were being exposed to the word of God, and since you were born and raised as a Roman Catholic, that should be good!” and on most days, I might simply submit to this kind of retort. However, I spoke with my father not long ago about a Neo-Nazi record label that recorded subtly racist songs in the popular musical styles of the day and distributed them on playgrounds to young, impressionable school children. Then, gradually, they exposed these children to less delicate white power music until finally, they were all listening to some very hardcore, racialist stuff.

It is not my intention to compare Christian musicians to Nazis, but how is this any different? Christian rock has in the past been nothing but Abercrombie-clad tween males “rocking out” with acoustic guitars and small bands. Suddenly Christian music is supposed to extend beyond the acoustic folk style? Is this NOT unlike the Operation Playground that is run by the German Neo-Nazi group (Okay, so maybe it IS my intention to compare Christian musicians to Nazis, except for all that racial cleansing stuff. They share profound differences in that category)?

Personally, I hate music with hidden religious messages. This was a huge reason I stopped listening to Creed and Evanescence. I felt as if I was being hypnotized with cryptic implications. For example, I wouldn’t like a group that only sang songs about how delicious chocolate cake was, and how everybody should eat chocolate cake at all times. There may also be songs that explain how eating vanilla or strawberry cake unconditionally sends you to hell. I don’t know if this analogy is making any sense, but it sure as hell is making me want a piece of chocolate cake. You should have some, too. Sinners.

I suppose there are a LOT of musical messages out there a LOT worse than “follow the example of Jesus,” but I hate when something’s overly-corny, and I hate when something is sneaky. Jesus music loses because it’s either one or the other. I was tricked into listening to the God station once, but now that I have “88-point-7, WGOD” memorized, I know to glaze over it next time. It’s like the great George W. Bush once said: “Fool me once, shame on… shame on you. But fool me… fool me can’t be fooled again.”

***

Quotes of the Day

Today's edition of "Quotes of the Day" is a bit different from those in the past. I've included a handful of Jack Handy's "Deep Thoughts" today. I was reading some of this while my freshmen were reading silently, and I laughed out loud more than once. I'm pretty sure they thought I was at least mildly retarded. Enjoy!

"It's funny that pirates were always going around searching for treasure, and they never realized that the real treasure was the fond memories they were creating."

"It makes me mad when I go to all the trouble of having Marta cook up about a hundred drumsticks, then the guy at Marineland says, "You can't throw chicken to the dolphins. They eat fish." Sure they eat fish, if that's all you give them. Man, wise up."

"The day I met Marta was the happiest day of my life, because that was the day I screwed a friend of mine out of a bunch of money."

"Children need encouragement. So if a kid gets an answer right, tell him it was a lucky guess. That way, he develops a good, lucky feeling."

"If you ever go temporarily insane, don't shoot somebody, like a lot of people do. Instead, try to get some weeding done, because you'd really be surprised."

...and my personal favorite...

"When I think of all the arguments Marta and I have had, I realize how silly most of them were. And it makes me wonder why she wanted to argue over such stupid things. I think I'll go ask her."