Throughout college, no one person had a bigger influence on my mannerisms, speech or humor than Conan O'Brien. OK, maybe that's a lie. It's actually a dead heat between Conan and The Rev. Dr. John Seth Reist, Jr.
But look: they're both masters of the non-sequitur. They both sing funny songs and do funny dances. They're both men of intense wit. Sometimes, you have to think really hard to determine if something they say is a serious yet failed attempt at humor or just a sly, "Yes, I know this is a stupid joke, but that's why it's funny." With both men, the latter is almost always the case. They both have catchphrases.
(Hey woah! Keep cool, my babies!)
I guess where this analogy departs is the fact that I know The Rev. Dr. John Seth Reist, Jr. (Can we make that the official SB style for him from now on? Change the Stylebook!). I do not know Conan O'Brien. Thing is, I kind of feel like I do.
All the stupid little sketches that probably aren't that funny were I to really think about them - they're like inside jokes between close friends that also aren't really funny.
No, scratch that: these are inside jokes, that my friends and I shared. I mean, seriously, the SlipNutz? That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. But for some reason we all found it hilarious. I, for one, still kind of do giggle thinking about them.
I watched so much of Conan and remembered so many of those silly little bits that certain words now trigger an immediate mental response. Such as the word "inappropriate!" Or AIDS. Or anything to do with the country of Finland. Or countries in general. Or the word "razzmatazz," of which I can't find an appropriate video clip but featured writer Brian McCann singing a weird disco song.
Only an expert entertainer makes bits like those, the ones that stick with you and come back during inopportune times. And only an expert entertainer makes those same bits funny every time you think about them.
There are even more things that I do, mostly unconsciously at this point, that I took from Conan. I'm pretty sure that my generic nerd impression comes directly from him, and when I'm telling someone to hurry up I always mimic Conan mimicking his producer ("Gottago! Wegottago! Moveitalong, wegotattago!").
The scary part? I had to think for about two hours to realize that I did those things.
I have a feeling Conan won't change much. But he's on at 11:30 (10:30 Central...will we ever see a Central Time Countdown again?). Now, more people will be watching. It will feel less intimate; less like he's one of my buddies in Koon sharing some stupid thing that just came to his head.
12:30 is special: you might as well be the only one up and Conan is the only one there to keep you company. But 11:30? The late news just ended. Somebody, somewhere, is watching a Friends rerun. 11:30 isn't mysterious.
Hopefully that won't change Conan's comedy, but it's the end of an era: that hour makes all the difference.
I first encountered Conan O'Brien not on the Late Night show, but on a web transcript of his commencement address to Harvard's graduating class of 2000. It's a quick, good read. It was a few more years before I actually watched the show. Thanks to Conan, I got to know the White Stripes, the Eagles of Death Metal, Dungen, Jim Gaffigan, and Norm MacDonald and found camaraderie in the EAR, Galloway's fourth floor, and Koon Dorm.
Jack told me to go Galloway. When I asked, he said it was more 'artsy' and I'd be happy there.
Jack was also the first Hillsdale College student I ever spoke with.
"My name is Jack, BTW, I'll be a sophomore, just ask me if you need any more questions answered about the dorms. I'll be in Koon next year (yeah baby! Best dorm on campus now that there are men living there..the women effed it up). Hope to see you next year."
Later I made another inquiry (I was still using LiveJournal at the time):
Chase: "I think it was a few months ago that I posted on here and somebody commented and mentioned something along the lines of a Conan O'Brian fan group. Does this little ring of people still exist?"
Jack: "Dude, that's totally us (me (Jack), Tony, Evan, Kyle, Jon Oatess, etc, etc). I'll tell Tony to put you guys on the Conan email list (yes, such a thing does exist)."
So one night I went over to Koon. I didn't think it then, but looking back, it was the first I felt in sync with some of the people on campus. It was clear those guys felt something similar.
That night I walked back to Galloway with Miloch. After his confession that Conan was just "O.K.," the walk back was fairly silent. But it was still summer and I remember hearing crickets. Tony was wearing a bandanna around his head...like he often wore when juggling on the quad. It was blue and white.
I visited many more times, and eventually Conan visits grew to watching my Seinfeld DVDs during finals week marathons.
Watching Late Night with Conan O'Brien in Koon led to good things: ramen, Street Fighter, my first viewing of Annie Hall, Jack burning me Bloc Party and Wolf Parade, and a place I knew I'd be comfortable.
I was scheduled to live in Koon my sophomore year, but landed in The Beat by mere chance. Either place would have been fine, in hindsight. Either way, those Conan O'Brien nights led to the same people.
Living for years without cable television, I took to watching music performances exclusively on late night shows. I was also a record-from-radio-to-cassette junkie and fond of VHS compilations.
According to a tri-fold paper that I still own, Conan O'Brien fueled the best performances, by far. For example: A Perfect Circle, System of a Down, and Ravi Shankar.
That might be a joke.
Also the Hives, Slipknot, the White Stripes, Black Keys, Dungen, and a slew of other since I stopped recording.
And, of course, Eagles of Death Metal. But there's more to that recording than I care to remember. Because, as all VHS players eventually did, mine took one hell of a bite out of my "Live Cuts" tape, taking with it about 4 hours of footage, including none other than my coveted "Speaking in Tongues" performance.
I threw the fucking tape away.
I probably could have mended it.
But for all that heartache, I'll never forget the excitement of tracking down the TV listings section in the Chicago Sun-Times to find who would be on that night, and more often than anyone else, Conan was the man.
Could not be reached for (substantial) comment, really, but did say: "I don't have anything to say. The White Stripes weren't very good [on Friday]. And I hope Jack White's voice isn't fucked, though it sounds like it is." Thanks, Boo.
Yours has been a history of many great moments, but perhaps the common link to all your best episodes is facial hair, running like a scraggly, greasy braid from your pale, Irish chin. Never will we forget the beard and moustache championships, you growing a beard during the strike or, your favorite clip of all, when you donned a moustache and played Old-Timey Baseball. I look up to you, Mr. O'Brien, as I look up to all people--men and women alike--who have the courage to grow beards and wear fake moustaches. You are right up there with Topol, Robert Goulet, and this guy.
Your address to the Class of 2000 at Harvard also wasn't bad.
For all these things, Mr. O'Brien, we will always remember you--not as you are now, but as you were, when you began your monologue at 12:32 AM, EST, to the sound of drums and trumpets. May you continue to "triumph" in your new home. Just remember, there's an awful lot of pressure on you. You better do a good job.
"02/11/09 Wed, 1723 Traffic Crime – DPS received a complaint of a rental truck almost hitting another motorist. A visiting Japanese businessman admitted to having difficulty adjusting to American driving practices and briefly drove on the opposite side of the road."
"02/10/09 Tue, 2223 Suspicious Person / Activity – A processor called 911 to report he was not getting as much work as he wanted at his plant. His company would not purchase him a ticket home and he felt this qualified as kidnapping. He was advised to contact management in the morning."
"02/10/00 Tue, 1348 Welfare Check – At the request of a relative, an officer went to an individual’s residence to check on his wellbeing. He was found breathing and responsive, but in a drunken stupor in his bedroom. Relative expressed regret for having supplied the liquor."
More good stores from Dutch Harbor and the blotter in the LA Times.
A street artist in Paris, France spent a few minutes drawing this rendition of an American military man. The young soldier spent the previous night having a little too much fun, and confessed to feeling a little 'under-the-weather.' You can see it in his eyes. Of course, this is none other than our very favorite: John Reist.
There's been a flurry of art news within the past week or so, and I've started to keep a close eye on how a lot of museums are coping with tough economic times. Some museums have considered selling parts of their collections. Waves of criticism rolled in when Brandeis made that announcement.
Still, some museums, like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, receive $25 million donations. In the case of LACMA, it didn't come without strings.
While a Detroit museum got excited about finding lost art in a school basement, Greg Sandow published a piece in the Wall Street Journal arguing that "the arts are going to need a better strategy" for finding money. And in the end the arts need to be more self-sufficient, not dependent on government support.
On a lighter note, nobody has managed to rule out Jean-Pierre Houdin's theory of how the Giza pyramids were built. His new revolutionary theory about an internal ramp system shook the archeological world...and the theory still stands.
My room-redesign makes me read more. For the first time in a long time I have my music, internet, favorite images, and Econ's old webcam all in the same place.
Since Sunday morning I've read more from The Atlantic, The New York Times, and The Onion than I care to recall. I found the urban wonders of the world, 'Skyped' with someone overseas, and found a weird site called Old Jews Telling Jokes (check out Diane Hoffman, "Broccoli" first).
One week left of Conan, so I thought I'd bring back a classic.
Only it's not just about Conan. On Saturday I trekked up to Columbia, MO to see the Eagles of Death Metal. I have mixed feelings about their new album (although I love the wink-wink verbal pun of the title), but I figured I hadn't done much for fun in Missouri that wasn't sports-related so I decided I'd do something for once. I was in Jefferson City anyway (for the district wrestling tournament), and Columbia is across the Missouri River (plus 20 miles) from Jeff City so it made perfect sense.
Openers Monte Carlos, a Columbia-based band subbing for the originally scheduled Living Things, were garage rock in the same vein as EoDM. They looked as mild-mannered as the Jonas Brothers but had dirty riffs and nasty mouths to compensate (sample lyric: "I'll be your daddy/ Let me tap that ass," followed by some other pseudo-pornographic nonsense I can't remember). I saw Jesse Hughes and Dave Catching rocking backstage. Enjoyable, but ultimately disposable: I took two bathroom breaks and two cigarette breaks during their set.
The place began to fill up for EoDM. J. Devil seems to have ditched the hard-ass rockabilly singer look for more of a pretty-boy Hell's Angel look. I'm not sure why it strikes me differently, but it does. He came out with long, well-kept hair, a nice handlebar-ish mustache, and an utra-tight black tee-shirt. He used the aviators that sat upon his head as a rock shield: when talking to the audience they stayed up, but whenever a song started he made very certain to place them perfectly on his eyes. Maybe it's easier for him to act like a badass with shades down.
Flying solo, as is the case for me these days, I got to walk around and take it in from all areas of the theater. The Blue Note, aside from being a classic indie venue, used to be a real old-timey theater. The lower-level is gutted of seats but the balcony still has a full compliment and they're all quite inviting - cushy and low to the ground.
I know this because I got tired about a third of the way into the show and elected to sit and soak it in. I realize EoDM aren't really conducive to sitting. I think I must be getting old.
Still, seeing the whole stage from above allowed me to better watch the crowd sway below. Maybe there's a whole group of University of Missouri students that had similar freshman-year love affairs with EoDM, because they all pined for the classics. Two girls sitting in front of me on the balcony screeched for "Miss Alyssa" at every break in the action.
For some reason I'd always fantasized (quite selfishly) that EoDM was a niche band, and that the eight people who inhabited Koon Dormitory in 2005 were their only demographic. But here were these two girls I'd never even seen before, yelling for a song that we listened to hundreds of times, among ourselves, in college.
I realize now that I haven't yet talked about the quality of the performance since we last saw them four (was it four? five? damn...) years ago. While I don't think anything can quite top the feeling of that night at the Magic Stick, J. Devil is still spot-on. The place was packed, and unlike that Detroit show, I get the sense that he's become more of a showman (if that was even possible). EoDM was made for that kind of thing.
At one point he demanded that the house lights be turned up so that he could see "his adoring fans on the balcony." We sang happy birthday to a girl in the front row. He told us that because it was the night of love he could feel the love pulsating throughout the audience more than any other show he'd ever played. He kissed the guitar player.
Overall the music sounded as raw as the records, but I'm still wary of the bass. I mean, it's fine on the newer Death By Sexy tracks, but on the Peace, Love, Death Metal songs it seems to take away from the minimalist magic of those songs on record. Maybe I'm just so used to hearing them over and over sans-bass that it's a personal problem. "Speaking in Tongues," as we know from the Narrows, sounds fine with the low-end in full force. But "Whorehoppin," "English Girl" and "Kiss the Devil" sounded too full, almost muddled when bass comes into the equation. (This video tells me that they still play some songs as a two-piece with Joey Castillo on drums...which begs the question of why they decided to add bass in the first place, since newer songs sound just fine without it...)
Still, they're still a sight to see and it was obvious that everybody in the theater was just having fun, and I'm not complaining there. And sometime during "Whorehoppin" I realized how lame I felt sitting down on the balcony while the rest of the crowd was shaking ass on the floor, so I made my way down in time for "The Boy's Bad News."
That turned out to be the last song before the encore. I was distressed that they hadn't yet played "I Only Want You" or "Speaking in Tongues," but the encore delivered. Two audience members clad in red proposed to one another onstage. Then J. Devil played a solo electric version of "Midnight Creeper" at the behest of a female in the front row ("I have no idea why you'd wanna hear this song on Valentine's Day, baby, but anything for you"). Then a straightforward cover of "Brown Sugar," staring solo followed by the full band halfway in and then by three drunk guys who began grinding on him.
Finally, a trifecta: "Kiss the Devil," "I Only Want You," and a six-minute indulgence of "Speaking in Tongues."
The final verdict? Not the best show, but still pretty good. Enjoyable Peace, Love, Death Metal songs despite bass, the first five songs from Death By Sexy and no more than three songs from Heart On. However: no "Bad Dream Mama," "Flames Go Higher," "San Bernadino Sundown," or, despite the pleadings of everyone in the audience, no "Miss Alyssa." Fun times all 'round.
I didn't buy a shirt, although I thought for about ten seconds about buying a baseball-style tee that had a big "68" on the back with the cursive sub-script: "How about you just blow me and I'll owe you one?" Humorous, but doubtlessly a waste of money.
The alcoholic comedian W. C. Fields offered this rationale for not drinking water (absent whiskey): “Fish fuck in it.”
I have even found the regular features and section divisions pleasing, most notably In a Word by Barbara Wallraff, which prompts readers to coin new words for odd modern day occurrences and feelings. Examples: a word for the pile of clothes that have been worn but you will wear again but didn't properly put away; a word for the time you sit in front of a DVD's repeating menu screen.
I also like the magazine's design and illustrations.
In a rare move, I'm hustling to a local CD store today to make a purchase:
"Keep it Hid," by Dan Auerbach. Review here, linked by Econ.
Reaction to follow. UPDATE:
I've kept "Keep It Hid" spinning for about a day and I find myself struggling to get very excited about it. The album is mostly grooves and ballads, but I don't find them especially thought-provoking or complex (perhaps listening to too much Andrew Bird lately).
This is all OK, of course. The album is really listenable and would be great for driving or a backyard BBQ. It's just that I'm going to place it pretty squarely in the modern blues category.
All that said, I think the core of the album, tracks 5, 6, 7, and 8 make a nice run.
5: "Whispered Words (Pretty Lies)," reminds me of "Ain't No Sunshine" in its simple catchiness 7: "When the Night Comes," is Auerbach at his prettiest. 8: "Mean Monsoon," titled appropriately, takes a wicked rhythm and runs with it.
A number of county names are Native American-influenced neologisms invented by ethnologist Henry Schoolcraft, while ten “cabinet” counties are named after members of Jackson's executive branch. Several are named for famous Native Americans, local tribes, and geographically descriptive Ojibwe words. A few are named for Christian saints and military commanders, while others are named for their terrain, like this one:
I actually got pulled over by the cops for this. Turns out police HQ is right across the street and they were suspicious: Cop, at window: "Were you just taking pictures of headquarters?" Me, surprised: "Huh? No, I didn't even realize they were there...I was taking a picture of the sign. Bob Barker...thought it was funny. Here, I'll show you..." Cop, looking at pictures on camera: "Hmmm...you're not from around here, are you?" Me, explaining all the kids in spandex he's undoubtedly seeing: "No. I was at a wrestling tournament. I work for a newspaper in Waynesville. Sportswriter." Cop, bemused, handing camera back: "I see...well, you can go, we just wanted to make sure..."
Never mind the coincidence; the fact that Tony and I work at newspapers in towns with similar names and compete with newspapers with the same name. Oh, it's still there. Only this story just makes it a little freakier.
Listen: there's this wrestler, named Gordon Bierschenk. He graduated from Waynesville High School in 2003. In high school he was a mediocre wrestler at best but decided after graduation that he'd walk on at the University of Minnesota anyway, just for the hell of it.
So far, so good. He then went to Iraq after being a decent walk-on and came back with a new fire. Now he's the Big Ten Wrestler of the Week.
Now, this would admittedly be a lot freakier if Tony was still interning there. But still...who'd've thunk it? I've got national competition (*snicker*).
And you can read my version of the story here (no e-link yet, but I just posted the pdf on my blog, that'll have to do for now). My version is a bit more in-depth, plus I was able to talk to his mom and high school coach. Mine comes out Saturday, and the Strib piece was on Wednesday...the bastard.
I embed this film with great reluctance. Please watch it in as high of definition and as many dimensions as your computer can muster.
Having discovered OFFscreen, the UVA film society, Katie and I booked it there on a Sunday night whim to find two alarming disarming films that, if nothing else, seem to be exactly what their filmmakers wanted them to be.
First, we saw the film embedded above, "Glory At Sea." Like in a preview I read for it, I won't describe its story at all. I will say its shot compositions, in their variation, are expressive. And listen to the film score too. Also, consider other artists (in other mediums) to see if anyone comes to mind having seen this.
The feature presentation we watched? "At Sea," by experimental filmmaker Peter Hutton.
I'd never heard of Hutton, but MoMA put together a retrospective on him; Netflix doesn't deal in his stuff; and IMDB had little to offer.
Whether seeking remembrance of a city's fading past or reflecting on nature's fugitive atmospheric effects, Hutton sculpts with time; each film unfolds in silent reverie, with a series of extended single shots taken from a fixed position, harking back to cinema's origins and to traditions of painting and still photography. -- MoMA
I found another nice piece on Hutton through the OFFscreen site.
As for my two cents: Hutton's silent film was completely captivating for 60 minutes. It made me think a lot about still photography, but the subtle movements of little people in big scenes and the undulating waving of the ocean, make motion important.
"At Sea" shows the life of a container ship, something I've had interest in ever since they (and their cranes) scared me in Charleston. The shot compositions can be extremely full of stuff, especially at the build-a-boat dock. Others are like moving swatches of texture (the ocean!). And some recall the poetic spaceship dances of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but with those massive cranes.
The film reminded me a little of "Manufactured Landscapes", which similarly shows the Bangladeshi beach where container ships go to die. But "At Sea" is better. And we saw it on 16mm.
Andrew Bird, in red socks, rose on tiptoe and wielded and waggled his violin bow over his head, like a teacher chastising students -- or like hip hop fans gettin' their hands up.
He jangled around like a marionette, occasionally crossed his chicken legs, and at one point became so expressive with his left hand that he picked up and put down the xylophone mallet without using it to play.
Dosh provided varied beats on drums, in part frustrating when a rhythm or accent would pop up once and only once (like a great synchronized smash during one part of "Tables and Chairs").
Bird may have gone after too much violin distortion, and I think his songs lose some of their distinction live (the whistling and crescendos and toggling between instruments makes the songs bleed together a bit). But Bird took beautiful liberties on the vocal stylings of "Nervous Tic Motion..." and "Fake Palindromes."
I can't very well remember the arrangement of the middle of the set, but:
Approximate Set List Intro w/ looping including a really big bowing stroke Hot Math (?) Yawny at the Apocalypse (?) a clicking, clapping song Natural Disaster Effigy Plasticities Oh No a Dosh composition Fitz & Dizzyspells Imitosis (apparently my favorite last time I saw Bird). Not A Robot, But a Ghost A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left Tables & Chairs One of These Days, acoustic Fake Palindromes
And The National, in Richmond, Va., is a really nice venue. Chill vibe with an especially friendly upper level bar (no pushing, easy to chat). We thought the whole place would be plush seating, and it wasn't, but otherwise it exceeded expectations.
At risk of the title of this post sounding like a Guided-By Voices song name (unrelated and all-too accurate GBV song title generator here), this is actually a real thing. I was in Starbucks today (yeah, the one in the freakin' grocery store) and noticed this CD:
That said, I figured I'd go ahead and ask our resident Starbux/ glam rock expert Mr. Harvey if he has actually sold any of these CDs at his particular S-bux store, or if he could tell me some inside sales figures info on it. Is the glam CD selling better than the Coldplay and jazz CDs that your fine company also hawks? I hope the answer is no, because the tracklist really sucks. British people agree with me in the Guardian.
On our way to the lobby this evening, Vanessa and I discovered an interesting quality in our apartment building hallways. The observation began when our sense of smell was heightened by the presence of a queer funk somewhere in our apartment. The source and even remote location of the odor has not yet been discovered. Anyway, we stepped into our third floor hallway and instantly smelled an aroma that would result if a used book store was a kind of food. We opened the fire door at the end of the hallway, and smelled pineapples. The stairwell was odorless. In the basement hallway leading to the exit, there was the distinct aroma of burnt cleaning products, like a pool and an autumn bonfire. In the main building, before the lobby, was the smell of a multitude of spices all masking the vague and elusive impression of body odor, like an India cuisine restaurant. And the lobby smells neutral. It's only in the hallways. And it changes every day. So that's interesting...
Also from the Times, an old piece from David Foster Wallace on Roger Federer. The interesting thing about the piece is that he goes on all these tangents within the article (that's ostensibly a feature on Federer), most of which only loosely concern Federer, but he somehow manages to make them seem relevant. Plus, the footnotes (which is something for which his work has been criticized) are actually a plus for something like this.
(The Wallace piece was from their monthly Play sports magazine...kind of like their better version of Sports Illustrated after SI went down the tubes. Anyone know if they're still publishing it?)