Saturday, March 26, 2011

What doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger

I make every attempt possible to not miss work because of sickness. Unless I am physically unable to work (for instance, when I have a crazy bad migraine) I try to make it to my job every day. I catch a lot of heat from coworkers who don’t want to catch my illness, but I always feel that they are overreacting. Honestly, I think people should want to catch my sickness. Sure, nobody wants to get sick, but there are some things that your body really needs. It sounds weird, but your body needs to get sick to stay healthy.

Now, I am not a doctor, but my dad was a piano mover, so….(I hope someone gets that joke). Seriously, though, I am not a doctor, but I have common sense. Every year, I am subjected to a flu shot. You know what is in that shot? That's right, the flu virus. The idea behind getting injected with the flu virus is that my body will fight off these low doses of the virus and will build up protection/immunity against it in the future. Of course, some people still get sick even after receiving the vaccine. It’s not foolproof, but it does seem to work.

So, why do some people act like you have the plague when you cough in their general vicinity? Again, nobody wants to get sick, but if a sickness is going around, is there really any sense in trying to avoid it? We’ve already established that when you get a virus, your body fights it off and is stronger after vanquishing it. There is really no sense in avoiding a sick person. Of course if your immune system naturally sucks (or you have an immune disease), that kind of thing can literally kill you, but if you are a normal healthy person (as most people are), why would you worry about getting sick. Everybody gets sick. It’s something that really can’t be avoided. Sure, you wouldn’t want a sick person to cough all over your cheeseburger, but it’s generally not going to hurt you if you coworker doesn’t want to miss work with a little cough

I bring this up because over the past few weeks, I have been fighting off some late-winter sickness. I have experienced more coughing, sneezing, aching, and phlegm over the past 2 weeks. I even went to the doctor who told me I had a sinus infection. But I know my body will be better off after fighting off my illness (with a little help of some antibiotics). And I am proud to say that I haven’t missed a full day of work because of my sickness. I may have spread it around a little, but I didn’t cough on anybody’s cheeseburger. But I didn’t use any Purell Hand Sanitizer either.  

Friday, March 11, 2011

Beginning. Middle. End.

Beginning. Middle. End. 

I can’t think of anything in life that doesn’t have each of these elements. Everything has a beginning – a Genesis, if you will.  Everything has a middle period and an eventual end. Movies, relationships, employment, and even life itself all begin and eventually end. Hell, even your vacations each year (assuming you go on vacations) have a start date and end date. I dare you to think of something that doesn’t have a beginning and an end (and a sweet nougat center). As you can imagine, I have found something that ALMOST fits the bill. Fade-out songs. 

So you are thinking to yourself – HUH? Fade out songs? WTF is a fade-out song?  <thinking> HUH?

OK. What I am referring to is a music song that does not have a specific ending, but only fades out until the arbitrary point in time when the band decided to stop recording. According to wiki, fading-out is a technique that serves as a recording solution for pieces of music that contain no obvious ending. There are literally thousands of songs that do this. A good example of a song that fades out is Hey Jude by The Beatles. That song fades out, literally, for a full 2 minutes. The volume of the naa-naa-naa-na-na-na-naa’s simply goes down incrementally for 2 full minutes before the song eventually just ends.

I have a pet peeve with fade-out songs (actually, if you read this blog long enough, you will see that I have a lot of pet peeves – including the use of the word pet peeve).  Anyway, the issue I take with fade-out songs is that to me, they represent lazy songwriting.  I suppose you are now questioning why I, being a nobody from nobody’s-ville, would dare to criticize some of the greatest artists and musicians of all time – most of which used this technique. In fact, some would say that The Beatles, only the most popular musical group of all time, really popularized this practice.

The real problem I have with fade-out songs is that the songwriters are literally taking away the natural progression of things (as I said above, everything has a beginning, middle, and end). While technically a fade-out ending is still an ending, it is probably the worst thing that could happen to the end of a song.  Even with a most satisfying song can be transferred into a shitty song by going with a fade-out; which is simply the most unsatisfying ending I can think of (unless you ask my wife - *RIMSHOT*). Seriously, though, if you think about it, even fade-out songs aren’t presented that way in concert. When is the last time you went to a concert and heard a song that faded out? The answer is NEVER. Songs that were recorded to fade out on an album, mysteriously have an ending in concert. Why, you ask. Because the natural progression of a song is to have an ending. You can’t just end a live song by fading it out into nothing. So, why should we stand for this lazy songwriting on recorded albums?

Now, a not-so-distant cousin of the fade-out song is the cut-off song. OK, I just made that name up, but if you listen to terrestrial radio, you may have heard what I mean by cut-off song. This is the song where you know there is more to the song (possibly a fade-out song) that is cut off by the DJ and his/her incessant ramblings. This is actually becoming a huge problem and why most people (including myself) rarely (if ever) listen to terrestrial radio. Cutting off songs before the ending is EPIDEMIC. I don’t listen to the radio to hear my favorite song cut off in favor of a DJ and his incoherent ramblings (or even worse – an advertisement). I listen to hear the song in its entirety. Imagine taking the time to create a song, hearing it on the radio only to be cut off with a minute left in favor of an ad for a feminine hygiene product. I feel dirty just thinking about it.

The worst culprit of cutting off songs is the Jack FM station in my area. The concept of the Jack FM station is really neat. No DJ’s and more music that you want to hear. Sounds nice until you realize that they butcher the songs (not only do they chop off the end, but they also shorten the songs by cutting out lots of the middle parts). Its complete crap and I’m personally tired of it.

Sure I am only one person, but I am one person with an opinion. If musicians are going to take the time to crap all over their songs (by fading out), radio stations have a responsibility to play the entire song without crapping all over it (by cutting them off).

Friday, February 25, 2011

Expectations

In anticipation of this weekend’s Oscar telecast, I thought I might talk a little more about movies. Well, this topic isn’t actually ABOUT movies, but it does pertain to movies (as well as other things in life). The topic is expectations.

I have high expectations for many things in my life. I expect my kids to grow up to be astronauts. I expect to receive a large raise every year. I expect every trip to Atlantic City to end with me driving home in a limousine. Ok, only one of those things is a real expectation (and I’m not saying which one).  What I have stopped doing is having unusually high expectations with regards to art (specifically, performance art such as music and movies).

I have come to the conclusion that having high expectations does nothing for me. If you think about it, in most cases it is detrimental. There are basically 3 outcomes after seeing a movie. It exceeds, meets, or doesn’t meet your expectations.  When you have high expectations for a movie, it lessens the probability that it will even meet your expectations. Think about the last movie for which you had high expectations prior to seeing it. If you expected that movie to be a 5 (out of 5) star movie, but it only got 4 stars in your eyes, then you are essentially disappointed. Now, if you had gone into seeing that movie expecting a 2.5 star movie, you would have been pleasantly surprised at the 4 stars you eventually gave it.

Since it’s not a good idea to have unusually LOW expectations, the best way to avoid being disappointed is to have no expectations whatsoever. It sounds like an easy concept, but it is tougher than you think. I mean, if you think about it, when you go to a movie, you are going into it expecting to be entertained in some way. But by clearing your mind of any expectations you may have, you will most certainly be entertained. And even if you don’t like the movie, you will have some kind of positive reaction to the art on the screen.

This technique (of having no expectations) has worked well for me, but I must admit that it is not for everybody. And in today’s world, it is very difficult to accomplish. With all of the information that is available to us, such as movie websites and comprehensive movie review sites, we are made aware of movies well before they are even made. Plus, it’s nice to know whether a movie is getting preliminary good or bad reviews so that we can avoid going to a stinker. Maybe it is time we trust our own judgments. Don’t worry about what Rotten Tomatoes is giving the flick. Don’t read up on the latest movie in anticipation of seeing it. Maybe even try going into a movie completely blind (just show up to a movie theater and pick a movie you never heard of). OK, that might be silly, but give this “no expectations” thing a try. I think you will find that you will actually enjoy the experience – even if you don’t enjoy the movie.

Go Inception!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

cartoons - an incomplete post

Someone I know once said that Sid and Marty Croft (of cartoon fame) were talentless hacks. This person has ranted on the crappiness of shows such as HR Pufnstuf, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, and Land of the Lost – all of which are S&MC originals. I, for one, don’t know much about Sid and Marty or any their shows - although I vaguely remember seeing a few episodes of Land of the Lost as a child.  There is nothing really memorable about Land of the Lost (other than possibly the theme song – which I can’t recall at this time and the fact that they made a miserable failure of a movie based on that show).

The fact of the matter is that most children’s programming (we are talking TV here, not movies) is simply not good. Now, of course I realize this is a blanket statement and that it doesn’t apply to all children’s programming, but, for the most part, cartoons (and other kid’s shows) simply suck. But they suck for a reason. They suck, BECAUSE they are intended for kids. Think about that. Kid’s shows stink because they are intended for kids. If it was any good, they wouldn’t waste it on kids.

Now, just because a program is animated does not mean it is intended for children. Generally speaking, if the cartoon is funny to an adult, it is not meant for kid’s eyes. Take, for example, the Warner Brothers cartoons of yesteryear (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, etc). Many of those cartoons had references that would completely be lost on most kids. Sure, kids could get into a coyote chasing around a road runner and falling off cliffs holding a ‘help me’ sign, but a lot of those cartoons had all kinds of things kids didn’t (or shouldn’t) understand. War references, operas, senseless violence, gunplay were all mainstays is these WB cartoons.  I can recall many scenes of gunplay that would have many people (mostly parents) in an uproar if it were shown today (Rabbit Season/Duck Season anyone?).

Many of the cartoons of today are masking themselves as children’s programs while in actuality, they are made for adults (or at least young adults). My own kids watch cartoons on a daily basis. Spongebob, Tuff Puppy, Penguins of Madagascar, Planet Sheen, and Fanboy and Chum Chum (yes that is a real cartoon) are all kids’ shows - but they put things in there to make them accessible to adults. My kids love them because there are all kinds of physical type comedy (hitting, splatting, shooting, falling, slipping, flipping, tripping, etc), but these shows are written with adults in mind. My kids don’t get half of the jokes, but then laugh hysterically when Spongebob slips on his butt while walking to work at the Krusty Krab. I think my point is that cartoons aren’t necessarily for kids anymore. In fact, I may argue that most animated programming is NOT intended for kids. But, it’s hard to see the line when the creators make it so transparent.
I started this article intending to blast current TV shows; specifically the ones I put on for my kids. When I sit and watch cartoons with my kids, I feel like I am losing brain cells because the shows are just crap. But they are crap because they aren’t intended for me. They like the slop on TV just as I liked the slop on TV when I was a kid. But having 38 years under my belt has given me perspective. I just gotta live with the fact that kids will watch pretty much anything – even crappy TV shows (or should I say - ESPECIALLY crappy TV shows).

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ferris Bueller and the Fourth Wall

Oh, Abe Froman. I had almost forgotten what a cool little Chicago Sausage King you are. In case you have been living in a cave for the last 25 years, the Mr. Froman mentioned above actually refers to the one and only Ferris Bueller. The movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came out in 1986 and has been a favorite of mine for almost as long. I have seen it countless times over the past 25 years (although it’s probably been a couple years since my last viewing) and I have as much love for it today as I did when I first saw it. Sure, some parts of it don’t really hold up over time (like Ferris’ clunky 80’s style phone modem), but the flick still has the same effect on me today as it did when it first came out. Guys want to be Ferris; girls want to be WITH Ferris.

I recently read an article on the Baseball Prospectus site which referenced the movie; specifically the baseball game that Ferris and Cameron attended in the movie (if interested here is the link to that BP article http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=12877). It reminded me how much I love all the little things contained in the movie. The acting, the direction (John Hughes – one of my favorites), and the tremendous heart at the core of the movie are really what people seem to gravitate towards (all of which are great). My favorite thing about the movie, however, is Ferris’ relationship with the fourth wall. If you are unaware of this term, the fourth wall is the imaginary “wall” which separates the actors from the audience.  If you think of acting as being done in a box with walls, the fourth wall of the box is the imaginary wall between the audience and the actors. When an actor breaks the fourth wall, he or she is essentially addressing the audience in some way.

What makes Ferris Bueller’s relationship with the fourth wall so interesting is that not only does he break the fourth wall, but he shatters it - in a way I had never seen before (or have seen since).  I can think of a couple of movies that have broken the fourth wall that came before Ferris. Animal House featured several John Belushi moments where he looked into the camera as to say ‘look what I am about to do’.  The movie Airplane! also broke the fourth wall several times as did Trading Places.  But Bueller completely demolishes the fourth wall. Within the first 5 minutes of the movie, Ferris is telling the audience his secrets on how to get out of school (complete with an outlined list).  But the fourth wall breaking does not end with that. In fact, the whole movie is littered with instances where Ferris addresses the audience – culminating with Ferris telling us at the end to stop and smell the roses every once in a while. And in a very rare post-credits announcement, Ferris breaks the fourth wall one last time by telling the audience that the movie is over and to go home. His relationship with the fourth wall (and the audience, in particular) is what makes this movie so great.

Every once in a while, a movie comes out that breaks the fourth wall (sometimes with success, sometimes not so much). It never fails that when I see this happen, I think back to Abe Froman. I think back to the master of the audience manipulation. I think back to Ferris Bueller’s epic day off.

Danke Schön

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Cobain vs Grohl


Would you rather be a flash in the pan or have a long and steady career?  On the surface, this seems like a very easy question. Most people would rather have a long, steady career with some ups and downs along the way. A long steady career in any field sounds like a good way to live life. Steady income leads to being able to do the things you want to do. But imagine for a second that you are a real flash in the pan. You are one of the most popular and recognizable people in the world. You are ultra-super-mega-famous. You are the voice of a generation.  You are Kurt Cobain.

Ok. So, you are not actually Kurt Cobain, but hopefully you see my point. Back in 1992, Cobain was one of the most recognizable people in the world. The songs he created with the band Nirvana dominated the airwaves. Nirvana’s songs ended a whole decade of hair metal and began the (albeit short) grunge era. He was a bright flash in the pan because of the music he brought to the world. He was a reluctant super duper music icon. His mega-star status lasted only as long as he wanted it to last. Unfortunately, it did not last long because, as you may be aware, he put a shotgun in his mouth in April, 1994 and ended it all.  You could say that had he not ended it all, his star may have eventually withered and he might not be regarded as the icon he is today.

When their band was disbanded following the death of its front man Cobain, Nirvana’s drummer Dave Grohl came out from behind his drum set to lead his own band called Foo Fighters. Now, Grohl’s Foo Fighters are a very good band. They have a bunch of good albums and a bunch of good songs (of course, in my own humble opinion). What is interesting here is that by ending his career and his life, Kurt Cobain simultaneously helped create this other band. In many ways, the band he helped create is the exact opposite of the band he left behind.  

Nirvana, for all intents and purposes, is (was) the proverbial flash in the pan. Whether you like their music or not, the fact is that they were one of the biggest bands in the world during the three years between 1991 and 1994. The Foo Fighters, however, have been (and still are) a steady working band and have been since the death of Nirvana and Cobain. They are not the super-mega stars like Nirvana was, but they have sold a lot of albums (5 platinum) and played in front of millions of fans (including Yours Truly).

Obviously, most people would rather be alive than dead so the Cobain vs Grohl argument is rendered nonexistent. So, a better question would be, would you rather be in one of the biggest bands (possibly THE biggest) in the world for 3 years or be in a steady working band for years and years to come? Would you rather be regarded as an artist who changed the world with a single 4 bar riff or would you rather have a steady career but never be considered transcendent?

It must be great to be Dave Grohl, because he can say he was part of both.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Know Your Body

Since my mid-20’s, I have followed the same yearly weight gain/loss routine. The day after the Superbowl, I begin a diet/exercise regimen. I continue this routine until I hit a target weight (or I just quit at some point - usually determined by the timing of my vacation). After I slow or stop my dieting/exercise routine, I slowly gain weight until the holiday season, where I ramp up my eating (thanks to my wife’s awesome baking skills and my mother-in-law’s penchant for gifting candy and other sweets). By the end of the holidays, I slow my weight gain in anticipation for the routine beginning again (as noted, on the day after the Superbowl). Rinse and Repeat.

I am not sure if this is the best way to go about things, but it’s a routine that works for me. I am comfortable with the process because it allows me to eat what I want during the holidays and then feel (and presumably look) good when I have to take my shirt off at the beach. At this point in my life, it simply works. It is likely that this will not always be the case because losing weight gets harder and harder every year. I can’t imagine losing weight will be a piece of cake (no pun intended) when I am in my 50’s. I suppose at that point, my routine will change.

Now, as a slight side note, I’d like to address all the New Year’s Resolution saps out there.  You know the people I am talking about (in fact, you may BE one of the people I am talking about). The people who decide to begin a weight loss program to coincide with not only 10 million other people, but also during a fictitious time of renewal (the New Year). Have you ever been to the gym in early January? It is a mad house of epic proportions. The normal gym rats even stay away during the month of January because of all of the noobs who invade their weight benches (and don’t wipe them off). For these people, I suggest putting off your precious New Years weight loss resolutions and begin going to the gym in February when all of the Johnny-come-lately’s have already fallen off the weight loss wagons.   

Look, I am totally in favor of people getting off their butts and burning a few calories. In fact, I advocate exercising (even minimally) every single day. Even if your day consists of eating cheetos in front of the television all day, I suggest taking a half hour out of your busy weight gaining schedule and walk around. Get up and get the blood pumping. Walk around your office, and take the stairs every once in a while. Get yourself a game system (wii, xbox360 kinect, ps3 move, etc) or something fun that promotes a certain level of activity. Whatever gets you motivated is a good thing (even if is the dreaded New Year’s Res).

The lesson here is to know your body (and know it well). See, your body is your temple. Only one person in the world lives inside your body every day of your life – that person is you. By the time you are into your teens, you should know everything there is to know about your own body. The more you know, the more you can do about keeping yourself active and (at least partially) fit. Sure, things will change over time, but there is nobody more equipped to deal with these changes than you.